Vue de la villa des arènes d'Henri Matisse

The historical neighbourhood of Cimiez

The Matisse Museum and the Archaeological Museum are located on the Cimiez hill.

This residential area of Nice is of great architectural interest. It is home to beautiful Belle Époque residences, former palace hotels (Regina) converted into houses, princely palaces of Moorish inspiration (L’Alhambra).

The visitor can stroll through the gardens in the shade of the olive grove that houses the Matisse Museum or through the gardens of the Cimiez monastery before visiting its parish church.

Cimiez is also a place remarkable for its archaeological past. The site next to the Matisse Museum allows you to admire the Roman arena, the thermal baths and the Archaeological Museum.

Around the museum

The incorporation to France in 1860 combined with the opening of the Marseille-Nice rail link in 1864 allowed Nice to experience an exponential urban boom. While the influx of winter visitors following the trend of “winter aristocratic tourism” increased from 4,500 in 1861, to 33,000 in 1881 and nearly 150,000 in 1910, the permanent population tripled (source : L’architecture niçoise à la belle époque : 1841-1913, tribute to S.M. Biasini, exhibition, Nice, Palais Lascaris, 1978).

Thus, in order to satisfy this new and very demanding clientele (European aristocracy, heads of state and crowned heads of state) it was necessary to build suitable accommodation. The large number and breadth of leisure architecture and residence programs carried out at the Belle Époque have endowed the city of Nice with an exceptional architectural heritage and the district of Cimiez is the most significant example.

Around the Matisse Museum, you can discover:

  • The garden and the olive grove,
  • The monastery, its garden,
  • The Museum of Archaeology and the Roman amphitheatre,
  • The architecture of the surrounding palaces and bourgeois mansions and in particular the Regina Palace.

The garden and the olive grove

Facing the monastery, this garden is a vast olive grove, made up of thousands of olive trees more than 100 years old, its lawns accessible to the public make it a privileged place for family walks. Every year, traditional events take place in the garden.

The Matisse Museum as well as the archaeological site and museum are grouped in this large green area.

The Cimiez monastery and cemetery

The Cimiez monastery, listed as a historical monument, was built in the 9th century by the brothers of the Saint-Pons Abbey. In 1546, the Benedictine brotherhood ceded it to the Franciscans, whose convent had been razed during the siege of Nice three years earlier. Transformed into barracks for the military and then into a hospital after the Revolution, it resumed its original vocation under the Sardinian Restoration and became again a parish church under the direction of the monks. Its architecture was completely redesigned in the 19th century with the addition of Gothic Revival facades and a porch.

Inside: Three masterworks by the primitive Nice painter Louis Bréa; Frescoes on the vaults painted by Hercule Trachel (l’Assomption de la Vierge ; les scènes de vie de Saint François and Sainte Claire d’Assise) ; A 1512 carved wooden altarpiece by Louis Bréa depicting the crucifixion.

Henri Matisse, Roger Martin du Gard and Raoul Dufy are buried in the adjacent cemetery.

Monastère de Cimiez avec son jardin au premier plan
Les jardins du monastère de Cimiez
Photo: Ville de Nice, Service photo

The monastery gardens

Rosiers grimpants dans le jardin de Cimiez
Les jardins du monastère de Cimiez
Photo: Ville de Nice, Service photo

Alongside the convent buildings, near the Roman amphitheatre, its style is that of an Italian garden. This former vegetable garden and orchard of 9,550 m2 belonging to the monks has kept its original layout with its central well and its ancient pergolas completely covered with climbing roses.

Citrus fruit, orange, lemon and tangerine trees punctuate the lawn and the flower-bed bordering the paths, side by side with Mediterranean species such as olive or cypress trees.

A small, more intimate terrace opens below, adorned with a fountain and pools, and provides an exceptional panorama of the Paillon valley and, further on, of the sea.

The Archaeological Museum of Cimiez

Created in 1960, the museum originally occupied the ground floor of the current Matisse Museum. In 1989, the new Museum of Archaeology was inaugurated on the site of the remains of the ancient Roman city of Cemenelum. It presents archaeological evidence of the ancient history of Nice as well as ancient collections from other sites.

Le Musée Matisse, le Musée Archéologique et les arènes de Cimiez, vue aérienne
Photo: A Vol d’ Oiseau / Droits réservés

Les arènes de Cimiez

Arènes antiques de Cimiez
Les arènes de Cimiez
Photo: Ville de Nice, Musée Matisse

Classified in 1965, it is a Roman amphitheatre originally built in the 2nd century to serve as a training ground for cohorts stationed at Cemenelum, then enlarged in the 3rd century with the addition of rows of stone seats for the population of the city and meant for games.

Despite extensive deterioration over the centuries, an important part of the monument remains visible. Both restoration and consolidation work were carried out at the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The objects discovered in the amphitheatre are preserved and exhibited at the Archaeological Museum.

With a capacity of 5,000 spectators, the amphitheatre was just next to the Roman Baths, a site also classified as a historical monument in 1947.

The ruins of the frigidarium of the northern baths, and of the nearby amphitheatre (arenas) have always been visible and have never been covered since Roman times.

For years, the amphitheatre has been used for its original purpose : entertainment, by hosting shows during traditional festivals and later the concerts of the Nice Jazz Festival. However, these concerts came to an end in 2011 and moved to a new venue in the city centre.

Regina Palace and Cimiez hill

In 1860, after the annexation of the county of Nice by France, the access to the hills of the Nice conurbation is not easy. The opening up of a large avenue (the Boulevard de Cimiez) in 1881 combined with the enthusiasm of the aristocracy enamoured with the winter climatic condition, attracts investors who cover the hill with rich mansions and luxury hotels.

In the 1881s, Queen Victoria stays on the Coast and expresses the wish to have a building commensurate with her importance, equipped with the latest modern comforts (electricity, sewers, central heating).

Under the direction of the architect Sébastien Marcel Biasini, the building is completed in less than two years, in early 1897. It is administered by a company that calls it Excelsior Hotel Regina. True to her promise, the sovereign and her suite come to stay there from March 12 to April 28, 1897, then from March 13 to April 28, 1898, and a third and final time from March 12 to May 2, 1899.

During the First World War the Regina is requisitioned and turned into a military hospital. In 1920 it is purchased by a real estate company and it is named Hotel Regina. The 1929 crisis and the growing craze for seaside activities will mean the end of these hotels on the hill. Thus, in 1934, the Regina Hotel is declared bankrupt.

Converted into an apartment building, it is sold in separate units. In 1938, Henri Matisse buys two apartments on the 3rd floor to convert them into one large studio-apartment.

Façade de l'immeuble Regina palace
Le Régina, Nice
Photo: Ville de Nice
Le Régina, Nice, vue aérienne
Photo: A Vol d’ Oiseau / Droits réservés

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