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County of Nice (Traditional province, France)

Comté de Nice

Last modified: 2005-04-23 by
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[County of Nice]by Pierre Gay


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History of the County of Nice

The County of Nice (Italian, Nizza) is the southeasternmost part of France. It is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea (south), the Alps mountains (north and east) and the river Var (west). The sea shore is called Côte d'Azur, a nickname coined in 1887 by the poet Stephen Liégeard.

Remains of human settlement have been found on the fossil beach of Terra Amata, now in the center of the city of Nice. This site dates back to 400,000 years. The area was later occupied by the Ligures, who mixed with the Celts in the VIIIth century B.P. and constituted the Celto-Ligurian civilisation.

In the IVth century B.P., a counter named Nikaia (now Nice) was founded by Greeks from Massilia (now Marseilles). In 154 B.P., the Romans intervened against the Oxybians and the Deciats, who had threatened the colonies of Nikaia and Antipolis (now Antibes, on the other side of the river Var). This intervention started the process of Roman colonization, which led to the formation of the Provincia, later Provence. In 6 B.P., Emperor Augustus built in La Turbie a big trophy (now known as Augustus' Trophy or the Alps' Trophy) commemorating the pacification of the southern Alps and the submission of the Ecdinii (valley of Tinée), the Brigiani (near the village of Briançonnet), the Vesubiani (valley of the Vésubie), and the Nerusii (near the city of Vence). Augustus previously expelled the Vediantii from their fortress of Cemeneleum (now Cimiez), located in the upper part of Nice. The provincia of Southern Alps was created in 69, with Nice as its capital city.

In the IXth century, Provence (then including Nice) became an independent state, nominally vassal of the Holy Roman Empire since 1032. The cities of Grasse and Nice became wealthy due to commerce with the Italian cities of Pisa and Genoa, elected their own Consuls and hardly recognized the authority of the Count of Provence. In 1166, Count Raymond-Béranger III was killed during an expedition against Nice. In 1215, Nice acknowledged the protection of Genoa. In 1229, however, Count of Provence Raymond-Béranger V submitted Nice.

In 1380, Countess Jeanne I of Provence (1348-1382, better known as 'Queen Jeanne' and mentioned in several apocryphal stories) adopted Louis of Anjou. Louis' cousin, Charles of Duras (or Durazzo), led the Union of Aix, the Provencal anti-Anjou party, and strangled Jeanne. In 1388, the Anjou party won. Taking advantage of the troubles, Count of Savoy Amédée VII negociated with Jean Grimaldi, Governor of Nice, the so-called dédition de Nice, by which Nice and its viguerie (administrative division), the city of Puget-Théniers and the valley of Lantosque formed the terres neuves de Provence (new lands of Provence), also called simply terres de Provence, and were incorporated into Savoy.
The name of County of Nice did not appear before the reign of Charles of Savoy (1504-1553).

In 1543, Nice was besieged by the Ottoman fleet commanded by Barbarossa, following the alliance between the Sultan and King of France François I against the German Emperor Charles V. The city was seized after twenty days but the last defendors resisted in the castle, causing the Ottoman fleet to withdraw.

In 1614, Duke Charles-Emmanuel I established in Nice a free port and a Senate. The revolt of Count of Beuil was stopped in 1621. The County of Nice was relatively stable compared with the neighbouring Provence, where revolts and riots were common. The war between France and Savoy resumed at the end of the XVIIth century and the County of Nice was occupied by France from 1691 to 1697 and 1707 to 1713.

In 1789, Nice became a center of counter-revolutionary activity. The Southern Army (Armée du Midi) of the French Republic entered Nice on 29 September 1792. On 31 January 1793, the Convention ordered the incorporation of the County of Nice to France as the department of Alpes-Maritimes (Southern Alps). The barbets carried on the fight against the French occupation in the hinterland of Nice. A place located near Duranus is named Saut des Français (French's leap) because a group of barbets caught French soldiers and pushed them into the river Vésubie.
During the First Empire, Prefet Dubouchage developed Nice and was supported by the notables of the city.

On 23 April 1814, the County of Nice was given back to King of Sardinia Victor-Emmanuel I (1759-1824, King 1802-1821). In 1859, France and Sardinia set up an alliance in order to expell Austria from northern Italy. France would receive Savoy and the County of Nice as a reward for its help. The same year, Napolèon III signed the treaty of Villafranca di Verona, which ended the Italy campaign. However, Venetia remained Austrian and England opposed to the incorporation of Savoy and Nice to France.

In 1860, Napoléon III and Victor-Emmanuel II signed the treaty of Turin, which prescribed the reincorporation of Nice to France 'without any pressure, from the will of the inhabitants'. The plebiscit yielded 25,743 'yes' and 260 'no'. The County of Nice, augmented with the arrondissement of Grasse, formed the new department of Alpes-Maritimes. On 14 June 1860, the French troops entered Nice and the annexion was celebrated. On 12 September, Napoléon III and Eugénie de Montijo were given by the Mayor of Nice the vermeil keys of the city. The treaty of Turin stated that the municipalities of Tende and la Brigue should remain Italian for 87 years (mostly because they were the favourite hunting places of Count Cavour). These municipalities were eventually incorporated to France on 10 February 1947, so that the French-Italian border matches now the natural border constituted by the Alps mountains.

Ivan Sache, 26 May 2003


Flag of the County of Nice

The banner of arms of the county of Nice blazons as (GASO):

D'argent à l'aigle couronnée de gueules au vol abaissé, empiétant une montagne de trois coupeaux de sable issant d'une mer d'azur mouvant de la pointe et ondée d'argent

The word aigle (eagle) is used in French in feminine only in ornithology, heraldry, and militaria, thus explaining couronnée instead of couronné.

The eagle is related to the Holy Roman Germanic Empire, which ruled Savoy in the past (the County of Nice having being ruled itself by Savoy since the 'dedition act' of 1388).
The three rocks represent the three mountains that surround the city of Nice : mont Alban (222 m), mont Gros (lit., big), and mont Chauve (lit., bold ; 854 m).

Source: Regional Council of Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur

Ivan Sache, 26 May 2003

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