After the flit to Cambridge in summer 2013 just mentioned, our next destination was the South of France! Lucky for some, you may say, and especially so for us as by reason of payback for favours and efforts on behalf of a well-placed friend, I had somewhere to stay on the Côte d’Azur for free, which made the whole thing just about affordable. Anyway, you don’t need to know about that but I am going to show you the medievalist holiday photos anyway, as I assume you would fully expect. And our first proper day out was to Nice!
Early medieval Nice was on the hillside above the city that is now the Colline de Château, so there is almost nothing medieval in what is now the city proper. I liked how this photo of the neo-Gothic Notre Dame worked out too much not to show you, however. The actual medieval remains off the hill (and even this took some climbing) are limited to this.
However, climbing the Colline gets you slightly more to work with. The actual Château has been needed so much since it was built, what with Nice being ideally placed for any wars between France and Italy, in which the Duchy of Savoy seems often to have been involved once it existed, that the architectural components are nearly all early modern or modern, like this imposing donjon wall.
But inside the castle precinct one quickly finds oneself drawn to exposed white stone which turns out to be an apparently tenth- or eleventh-century cathedral (so I suppose they mean early Romanesque), about which I could find out almost nothing!
My companion-in-photos’s commentary (and also better photos, with much more coverage of the actual city) suggests that actually what we have here is a fourteenth-century cathedral, sitting largely on top of an eleventh-century one. If so it would have been quite short-lived in its second phase, the town was moving downhill by then. The eleventh-century one should presumably have had precursors, though, given that settlement here is very old; are they visible here? Almost no signage and aucun idée!
No indication, indeed, that the dig was ever finished or might be resumed. Just a fenced-off area of decontextualised monumentality. Presumably somewhere there is a list of what they found where? Because no-one would now notice if you loaded it onto a handcart and took it back down the hill, I reckon, which means that people probably have.
In so far as I could get my head round this site at all, it seemed to me that we had a triple-apsed building with a possible cloister on the north wall, uphill from the main church. The northern stonework seems older to me, though, which raises the possibility that the fourteenth-century building had recognised the shift downhill and was actually just a lot smaller, and what I had down as a cloister is actually the main body of the earlier building. The site as it stands is perhaps clearest here, as is the level of care the site is under.
The earlier levels are only easily visible at the western entrance, up above where you can see that the floor level on the pillars is not where the hole stops, and inside the chapel that occupied the northern apse, here. But is this eleventh-century building or just the fourteenth-century crypt? If there was one! And why do its tiny chambers have no entrances? Can they be cisterns, in a chapel? In general, huh? Considerable frustration at the lack of information here, as you can tell.
I wish someone would do something by way of interpretation here. I mean, apart from anything else, it looks as if it was fairly splendid, even if on a surprisingly small scale for a city. Are we sure this was still the cathedral in its second phase? Probably there is publication on this but the city tourist information seemed remarkably uninterested and it did give the impression that the dig was supposed to bring new old things to light and stopped more or less exactly at that point. The signage was a lot better for the few medieval parts of the castle still standing, of which the coolest was this postern gate.
But even here they are out to confuse, it transpires. The nice Gothic arch there? Grabbed from a town gate that was being demolished in 1876 and put up here for the look of the thing. I liked Nice, a lot, but its treatment of its heritage seems to have been a bit idiosyncratic for a good long time. Anyway, I shall close with a picture of my companion, since she was apparently lamenting how long I was going to take to put it up…
There will be three more of these posts, anyway, which I will intersperse with more musings about charters and the feudal transformation, so stay tuned for one other or both!
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Ancient wisdom on Nice: “the sunny spot for shady people”.
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