Things to see and do - French Riviera and Monaco
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Events in italics indicate milestones in history
1500 — Etchings in the Vallée des Merveilles.
900 — The Ligurians occupy the Mediterranean seaboard.
600 — Foundation of Massalia (Marseille) by the Phocaeans. They bring olive, fig, nut, cherry trees, the cultivated vine; they substitute money for barter.
5-4C — The Greek settlers in Marseille introduce trading posts: Hyères, St-Tropez, Antibes, Nice and Monaco. The Celts invade Provence, mingling with the Ligurians.
- Gallo-Roman Provence
- Provence up to the “Reunion”
- Provence after the “Reunion”
- 19th Century
- 20th Century
- 21st Century
122 — The Romans intervene to protect Marseille from the Celts, whom they defeat in 124.
102 — Marius defeats the Teutons from Germania near Aix.
58–51 — Conquest of Gaul by Julius Caesar.
49 — Julius Caesar founds Fréjus.
6 — Building of the Alpine Trophy at La Turbie.
1, 2 and 3C — Roman civilisation in evidence in some coastal towns (Fréjus, Cimiez, Antibes); the Via Aurelia (Ventimiglia-Brignoles-Aix) is the country’s main highway.
313 — Constantine grants Christians freedom of worship by the Edict of Milan.
4, 5C — In 410 St-Honorat establishes a monastery on the Iles de Lérins. Christianity takes root in the coastal towns, then inland.
5, 6C — Vandals, Visigoths, Burgundians, Ostrogoths and Franks invade Provence in turn.
496 — Clovis, King of the Franks, defeats the Alemanni from Germania at Tolbiac.
800 — Charlemagne is crowned Emperor of the West.
Provence up to the “Reunion”
843 — Treaty of Verdun regulates the division of Charlemagne’s Empire between the three sons of Louis the Debonair. Provence is restored to Lothair (one of Charlemagne’s grandsons) at the same time as Burgundy and Lorraine.
855 — Provence is made a kingdom by Lothair for his son, Charles.
884 — The Saracens capture the Maures and for a century terrorise the land.
962 — Restoration of the Western Empire as the Holy Roman Empire under Otto I.
974 — William «The Liberator», Count of Arles, drives out the Saracens.
10, 11C — Provence, after passing from hand to hand, is finally made part of the Holy Roman Empire. Despite this, the counts of Provence enjoy effective independence. The towns are freed and proclaim their autonomy.
12C — The County of Provence passes to the counts of Toulouse, then to the counts of Barcelona. The counts maintain an elaborate court at Aix.
1226 — Accession of St Louis.
1246 — Charles of Anjou, brother of St Louis, marries the daughter of the Count of Barcelona and becomes Count of Provence.
1254 — Landing of St Louis at Hyères on return from the seventh Crusade.
1295 — Charles II establishes the village and port of Villefranche.
1308 — Overlordship of Monaco is bought from the Genoese by a member of the Grimaldi family.
1343–82 — Queen Jeanne becomes Countess of Provence. Plague decimates the population.
1388 — Nice hands itself over to the Count of Savoy.
1419 — Nice is officially ceded to the Duke of Savoy.
1434 — René of Anjou, “Good King René”, becomes Count of Provence. He sets up court in Aix and helps revive the economy of the region.
1481 — Charles of Maine, nephew of René of Anjou, bequeaths Provence (except Nice, which belongs to Savoy) to Louis XI.
1486 — Reunion of Provence with France ratified by the “Estates” of Provence (assembly of representatives of the three orders); Provence attached to the Kingdom “as one principal to another”.
1489 — The independence of Monaco is recognised by regional powers, Provence and the county of Nice, both of whom attempt to increase the population with favourable immigration incentives.
Provence after the “Reunion”
1501 — Establishment of Parliament at Aix (Parliament of Provence), sovereign court of justice, which later claims certain political prerogatives.
1515 — Accession of François I.
1524 — During the wars between François I (1515-1545) and Emperor Charles V, Provence is invaded by the Imperialists, commanded by the High Constable of Bourbon.
1536 — Invasion of Provence by Emperor Charles V.
1539 — Edict of Villers-Cotterêts decrees French as the language for all administrative laws in Provence.
1543 — Nice besieged by French and Turkish troops. Catherine Ségurane instrumental in causing the Turks to withdraw.
1562–98 — Wars of Religion . Promulgation of the Edict of Nantes. Henri IV builds the first military port in Toulon.
1622 — Louis XIII visits Provence.
1639 — Richelieu establishes the French Royal Navy, with the a fleet in Toulon.
1643–1715 — Reign of Louis XIV .
1691 — Nice taken by the French.
1696 — France returns Nice to Savoy.
1707 — Invasion of Provence by Prince Eugene of Savoy.
1718 — County of Nice becomes part of the newly created Kingdom of Sardinia.
1720 — The great plague decimates the population of Provence.
1746 — Austro-Sardinian offensive is broken at Antibes. Austrian War of Succession.
1787 — Reunion of the “Estates” of Provence.
1789 — The French Revolution .
1790 — Provence divided into three départements : Bouches-du-Rhône, Var, Basses-Alpes. Wealthy French aristocrats buy property in Nice.
1793 — Siege of Toulon, in which Bonaparte distinguishes himself. Nice is reunited with France.
1799 — On 9 October, Bonaparte lands at St-Raphaël on his return from Egypt.
1804 — Coronation of Napoleon . The Riviera economy suffers from his Continental Blockade. Completion of the Grande Corniche from Nice to Menton.
1814 — Abdication of Napoleon at Fontainebleau, 6 April. Embarkation of Napoleon at St-Raphaël, 28 April, for the Island of Elba. The County of Nice is restored to the King of Sardinia.
1815 — Landing of Napoleon at Golfe-Juan, 1 March. He reaches Paris in record time by crossing the Alps. Battle of Waterloo, 18 June.
The Development of the French Riviera
In the 19C, the French Riviera slowly transformed from the isolated, impoverished, and somewhat unwelcoming corridor between Provence and Italy, to a chic resort destination. Early travel guides by Tobias Smollet (Travels through France and Italy) and Stephen Liégeard ( La Côte d’Azur ) offered glowing descriptions of flowering gardens and sparkling blue sea, but the popularity of the region really took off after the British Lord Brougham and Queen Victoria began coming on a regular basis for the curative climate. Aristocrats and royal courts from Europe and Russia were the first to build their palaces along the coast in Cannes, Nice and Monaco, where the casino was booming. The arrival of the railroad in 1864 brought the affluent bourgeoisie and famous artists, many who shocked the locals by sunbathing and swimming in the Mediterranean. By the turn of the century the French Riviera was an internationally renowned resort for the rich and famous.
1830 — Accession of Louis-Philippe.
1832 — The Duchess of Berry lands at Marseille, hoping to raise Provence in favour of a legitimist restoration.
1834 — Ex-Chancellor Lord Brougham “discovers” Cannes.
1852-1870 — Reign of Napoleon III.
1860 — County of Nice restored to France.
1865 — Roquebrune and Menton, who declared their independence from Monaco in 1848, become part of France.
1865 — The railroad links Marseille to Nice, reaching Monaco in 1868.
1878 — Opening of the Monte-Carlo Casino. Development of the winter tourist season of the Riviera.
1887 — The journalist Stephen Liégeard coins the phrase, “Côte d’Azur”, or Azure Coast.
late 19C — Artists such as Paul Signac establish the St-Tropez School of Painting.
The Summer Season Debuts
In the late 19th and early 20C, most of the tourism on the French Riviera was still reserved for the winter months. Ski resorts began appearing in the snowy mountains above Nice as early as 1909. The summer season, popularised by American artists and writers, officially launched in 1931, when hotels and resorts remained open throughout the year and Coco Chanel made tanning fashionable. In France, the first paid vacations made the French Riviera accessible for the average worker.
After the interruption by WWII, the French Riviera saw exponential growth and development in infrastructure, with high-speed trains, highways, and an international airport opening up the region to the mass tourism that the region enjoys to this day.
1911 — First Monte Carlo Rally
1914–18 — Many village populations depleted by First World War.
1920 — Moyenne Corniche built. 1931 — Resorts open in summer.
1940 — The Italians occupy Menton.
1942 — The Germans invade the Free Zone. The scuttling of the French Fleet in Toulon harbour.
1944 — Liberation of Provence.
Allied Landing in Provence (1944)
Operation “Dragon” – This was the aftermath of operation “Overlord” which had liberated Normandy three months earlier. At a critical moment in the battle of Normandy the Allies landed on the coast of Provence fortified by the Germans under the name “Südwall” with the American 7th Army under General Patch , of which the French Ist Army (composed mostly of African soldiers) formed the principal part.
“Nancy a le torticolis” (Nancy has a stiff neck) – This laconic message, broadcast on the BBC in the evening of 14 August announcing the landings in Provence, raised the hopes of the Resistance groups which had been on alert since the projected landings reported on 6 June 1944. Between June and August, the dropping of arms by parachute was stepped up, notably in the pouvadous (dry and stony moors); these arms were destined for the Maquis (Resistance) in the Maures, the Alps, Bessillon and Ste-Baume. In the early hours of 15 August, airborne Anglo-American troops were dropped around Le Muy to take control of the strategic communications route, RN 7. The village of La Motte became the first Provençal village to be liberated. At the same time, French commandos from Africa landed at Cap Nègre, and Esquillon Point, while American Special Forces attacked the Îles d’Hyères. Thus protected, the main army, assembled on the 2 000 ships, including 250 warships, landed at 8am on the beaches of Cavalaire, St-Tropez, Le Dramont and the Esterel. Despite a rapid advance, the two sectors were still separated at the end of the day by pockets of German resistance at St-Raphaël and Fréjus which fell only the following day. On 16 August the B Army under General De Lattre landed at Cavalaire Bay and in the gulf of St-Tropez and, having relieved the Americans, attacked the defences of Toulon.
General Montsabert outflanked the town to the north to fall on Marseille. After the fall of Hyères and Solliès, Toulon was reached on 23 August but fighting continued until 28 August with the surrender of the St-Mandrier peninsula. On the same day, after five days of fighting, Marseille was liberated.
To the east, the Americans of the First Special Force advanced to the Alpes-Maritimes to back up the Resistance forces and drive the Germans back into the Italian Alps: Nice fell on 30 August and Menton on 6 September. In the hinterland, the Massif de l’Authion, transformed into an entrenched camp by the Germans, was the site of hard fighting for 8 months. L’Authion was overcome on 13 April 1945, Saorge on 18 April but Tende was liberated only on 5 May, three days before the general armistice!
Provence had been liberated in less than 15 days. The Allies pursued the Germans, who retreated up the Rhône Valley; the 1st French Army under De Lattre de Tassigny effected a link-up with the 2nd Amoured Division under Leclerc in Côte d’Or south of Châtillon-sur-Seine.
1946 — First International Film Festival in Cannes.
Since 1946 — Development of summer tourist trade on the Riviera. Harnessing of the River Durance and River Verdon.
1947 — Upper valley of the Roya incorporated into France.
1960–1963 — Modern art flourishes in the region with the New Realism and the School of Nice artists.
1970 — International technology park opened at Sophia Antipolis near Valbonne reflects increasing emphasis on development of the region into a hi-tech industrial belt.
1980 — The Provençal Motorway (A8) links the Rhône and Italian networks.
1989 — Law passed to strengthen measures against forest fires which pose an increasing threat to the region.
1989 — The TGV ( train à grande vitesse – high-speed train) arrives on the Riviera.
August 1994 — Celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Liberation of Provence.
1996 — A high-speed boat service (NGV) between Nice and Corsica.
2000 — The naval base at the Toulon Arsenal becomes home to the French nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the Charles De Gaulle .
June 2001 — The TGV Méditerranée is inaugurated, reducing the Paris–Marseille trip to three hours.
April 2005 — Prince Albert succeeds his father, Prince Ranier III, who died after ruling the Principality of Monaco for 57 years.
2007 — Construction completed on the first line of the Nice tramway.
2008 — Thales Alenia Space, in the Centre spatial de Cannes Mandelieu becomes the biggest employer in the Alpes-Maritimes.
2009 — Planning begins for the new LGV PACA high-speed train linking Marseille to Nice, for 2020.