Neoclassical Architecture in Nice, France

The Baroque age (1553-1792) and the Belle Epoque (1855-1914) so deeply marked the image of the city of Nice that one may forget that it has many different styles of architecture.  Many monuments in Nice were built in a yet another architectural style: neo-classical.

Neoclassical architecture is an architectural movement born of neoclassicism in the second half of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century.  It follows classicism and Baroque architecture.  It is true that the movement aspired to rediscover clean lines of the ancient classical style.  The facades are regular, with tall doors and a recognisable look.  Neoclassical architecture uses Greco-Roman elements in its constructions, such as columns and pediments with harmonious proportions. Neoclassicism is illustrated by a return to virtue and simplicity.  The harmony of forms and proportions became important.

We can thus find in many places in France emblematic, neo-classical monuments – such as the Church of La Madeleine, in Paris, but also in other parts of Europe, for example the Gran Madre di Dio, Italy.  If this architectural style was present during fifty years throughout Europe, it could be expected that it eventually reached Nice.  A number of buildings are part of this artistic trend, especially those located in the center of Nice.

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The most notable example of neo-classical architecture in Nice is the Place Masséna, which was built on the plans of Joseph Vernier from 1835.  At that time, the Paillon river crossed Nice and was flowing f into the Mediterranean Sea, with its estuary not far from where the current place is located.  During this period, the city was mainly concentrated on the left bank of the river, where the old city is located.  The idea was to extend the city onto the opposite bank.  An extensive urban planning program was undertaken, which included a construction of a new bridge, called Pont Neuf, and a large square on the right bank.

Although the Paillon River still crosses Nice, some of its parts, including the estuary, have been subsequently covered due to flooding and the bridge has been demolished.  This allowed for an enlargement of Place Masséna.

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Thus, the place is famous for having preserved, on the top of the Fountain of the Sun, the monumental statue of Apollo.  In addition, the fountain itself had been often moved and even was removed from the square until 2007, when it was relocated.  The fountain of the sun and the five bronze statues that border it are its only original ornamental elements.

In essence, the Place Massena is an unmissable monument of the city of Nice, since it is one of the sites that brings together its most amazing neoclassical structures.  Bordered by buildings with impressive red facades, the place is a short distance from attractions such as the Garden of Albert I and, a little further, the Sainte Reparate Cathedral.

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While wandering by the seaside, one can find some more neoclassical buildings.  The Quai des Etats-Unis, for example, is known for its Royal Gate with large columns.  Not far from here, one can see main pillars of the Naval Gallery or Galleries Ponchettes. The Opera House, located near Cours Saleya, was destroyed and rebuilt in 1826 and became an important building in the history of neoclassical style in the city.

Further away, in the heights of Nice, Villa des Palmiers (better known as the Marble Palace) is just as famous for its architecture.  Its facade is made of Carrara marble and was built stone by stone.  Its neoclassical style was inspired by the Italian Renaissance. The building contains the municipal archives of Nice but the park is open to the public free of charge.  The space is adorned with numerous statues of stone and bronze.

Towards the Quartier de la Libération, there is the Gare du Sud.  Prosper Bobin designed this building with other architects, such as André Biancheri, Nadine Clément, Paul Ravaux and Jean-loup Rouber, to make it the terminus Grasse-Nice and Digne-Nice. It was abandoned for a long time but has since been renovated.  Moreover, in this neighbourhood located at the top of the boulevard Jean Médecin, we can find some residential buildings in a chic, neoclassical style.

The city of Nice is well known for its mix of architectural style.  Strongly inspired by Italian history and its art, Nice welcomes in its streets, vestiges with incomparable lines and thus leaves the possibility for tourists as well as inhabitants to be able to immerse themselves a little more in its cultural environment.

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