The French government has decided to present, in January 2020, the candidacy of “Nice, capital of Riviera tourism”, for inclusion on the UNESCO world’s heritage list. “Nice shows that tourism, a major phenomenon of the contemporary world, whose excesses are so often deplored, can also be conducive to the creation of an original heritage, explains its mayor, Christian Estrosi, who is at the origin of this candidacy. “This is why I am convinced that the heritage that is the subject of this candidacy is a unique bearer of the values of openness to the world, mutual understanding, tolerance and hospitality in line with UNESCO’s fundamental objectives”.
This candidature will be examined by the UNESCO World’s Heritage Committee at its July 2021 session. Located in an exceptional site, between the sea and the mountains, a new and cosmopolitan city was formed from a pre-existing urban core. Between 1760 and 1960, the development of the city was determined by its function as a holiday resort. The term riviera is the Italian form of the Latin ripa (bank, shore) which, from the 17th century onwards, designated the area between the Apennines and the sea, along the territory of the Republic of Genoa and, very precisely, the coastal strip delimited to the east by the river Magra (around La Spezia) and to the west by the Var.
The Riviera, a concept born in Nice
From the end of the 18th century onwards, Nice was the first site on this coast, which until then had been known to be inhospitable and difficult to access, where a winter holiday activity developed. It was therefore in Nice that the attractions of what was to become the Riviera in the tourist sense of the word were first discovered: the picturesque particularity of the landscapes resulting from the proximity of the mountains and the sea, the mildness of the winter climate, the exoticism of the vegetation and even, to a certain degree, the singularity of the way of life of the natives. In the second half of the 19th century, other riviera resorts were developed on the Ligurian coast (Italian Riviera), the Dalmatian coast (Austro-Hungarian Riviera, around Opatija), in the Crimea (Yalta) or on the Alpine lakes. The term Riviera thus designates a particular form of spatial tourist organisation, which originated in Nice and spread to other coasts, anticipating what will be the privileged tourist destinations of the 20th century, made accessible by the development of means of transport. This riviera tourism gave birth in Nice to a real city to which, at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, the title of “winter capital” was applied.
The amphitheatre of hills and mountains surrounding the Baie des Anges, the great landscape of the mountains in the background, the sea but also the mild and sunny climate, have made Nice’s fortune and are still its main asset. These characteristics of the site and the climate, appreciated in Nice from the 18th century onwards, became emblematic of the riviera landscape at the end of the 19th century.
Conceived from the end of the 18th century as an extension of the initial urban nucleus, and above all with a strong desire to embellish, the layout of the central plain, which was to regulate urban development linked to the development of holiday resorts, has a fan-shaped layout to enhance the site by long straight visual breaks between the sea and the mountains. From 1831 onwards, the Consiglio d’Ornato (Town Planning Council) established rules aimed at creating a harmonious, ornamented town, with promenades. The promenades, along the large boulevards lined with hotels or shops, or along the sea or river banks, were designed from the end of the 18th century, with the Promenade des Ponchettes, to “attract and fix” foreigners, with features to suit their tastes in each period (decorations, belvederes, etc.). The most emblematic of these walks is the Promenade des Anglais.
Nice’s current plant heritage dates back to the embellishment desired at the beginning of the 19th century, be it exotic with the palm trees along the shore or endogenous such as the pine forests that cover the mountains to the east. The agricultural and pastoral landscape has been replaced by an Arcadian landscape, scenic, embellished on many axes with planted setbacks and alignments of trees. In addition, the town has squares and private and public parks. A hundred or so remarkable trees from this period still dot the urban space. The creation in 2013 of a huge botanical garden on the roof of Le Paillon is in line with this attribute.