Urban walks in the South of France
Tracing the footsteps of an adventurous friar, the ancient Romans and Queen Victoria
Today’s post is some sort of a post-scriptum to our brief series of seasonal promenades along the Cote d’Azur: a walk that we discovered only recently, in the week since we published the third and, as you can see, the not-quite-last of our “Riviera winter walks”, and one that can serve very well as an alternative to last week’s “chateau walk” in Nice, being equally located in the region’s administrative and cultural centre.
Cimiez – the modern version of it – can be best described as a northern part of Nice, but it has not always been that way. In fact, Cimiez – when it was still called Cemenelum – was once a town in its own right and, as the provincial capital of the Roman Empire, by far more important and powerful than its near neighbour, the ancient Greek settlement of Nikaia.
When the Roman Empire fell, however, Cemenelum was razed to the ground by Barbarian invaders from the north, and the area it had once occupied was only resettled more than a thousand years later, during the French Riviera’s 19th century tourism boom. As a consequence, the quarter is full with rather imposing Belle Epoque mansions and apartment buildings. (Queen Victoria used to reside in the Hotel Regina.)
Cimiez also has a pretty public park, comprising the gardens of the arènes – the amphitheatre that was built to amuse the Roman soldiers who were stationed here – …
… and the adjacent gardens of the monastery which goes back to a Benedictine convent from the 9th century.
In the 16th century, the convent including today’s church building were taken over by the Franciscans. (It is said that Marcos de Niza studied here, the Franciscan friar and adventurer who later, on one of his expeditions in the “New World”, helped to establish what would eventually become the city of San Francisco – and ensured that it bore the name of his order’s founding saint.)
The monastery must have once been a mighty institution, certainly large enough, by the looks of it, to accommodate more than 100 friars.
Today, however, it is occupied by only four Fransciscans who also act as parish priests for the local community.
Don’t expect to do a lot of walking around the gardens: the entire green space is quite small, but there is a lot to discover, and you can certainly spend some time exploring the area a little further.
There are some more remnants of the area’s Roman past …
… while around the old monastery, you can imagine what the place would have looked like over the 1000 years of its history and sample the splendid views over town, sea and country.
It is really quite easy to spend an hour or two around the area in this French Riviera winter walk in Nice, without even counting a trip to the Archaeological Museum in the back of the arènes or the Matisse Museum, which is equally located inside the park. (The artist himself is buried in the cemetery behind the monastery church.)
And if you really feel like doing some serious walking: you can also make your way here on foot from Nice town centre. Just walk up the Boulevard de Cimiez which starts in the back of Nice Central Station. The street will lead you past some interesting architecture – and, incidentally, another famous museum, the Musee Marc Chagall – directly to the public gardens. (That walk should take you no longer than 45 minutes.)
Alternatively, use Ligne d’Azur bus lines 15 or 22 (direction Rimiez) and call at the stop Matisse / Arènes.