Since the end of July, Nice has been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List for its unique urban heritage as “the winter resort town of the Riviera”. The precious UNESCO status glorifies the positive role played by tourism in Nice’s destiny.
It has taken almost ten years for Nice, France’s largest metropolis along the Riviera, or “Côte d’Azur”, to be recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site, during which all the political forces in the city bundled their strengths to convince the UNESCO committee to acknowledge the exceptional architectural character of the city.
Nice’s inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage list is a sign of recognition of the “Outstanding Universal Value” of the architectural, landscape and urban heritage of the town, in particular of the vast 522-hectare urban complex, an eminent example of the fusion of international cultural influences, shaped from the mid-18th to the mid-20th century by the cosmopolitan winter resort. Another buffer zone of 4,243 hectares adds to Nice’s further appeal.
According to Christian Estrosi, Mayor of Nice, the city’s urban uniqueness comes thanks to its regulated urban planning, green spaces planted with exotic species, its promenades, and first and foremost the emblematic Promenade des Anglais; but also its resort heritage, reflecting contributions from all over the world.
Nice’s specific resort architecture is a wonderful patchwork of world influences with Italian, French, British or Russian elements declined through villas, hotels, palaces, entertainment infrastructures but also places of worship. The cosmopolitan character of town is reflected through the mosaic of different styles standing next to each other: neo-classical, eclectic, art nouveau, art deco or rationalism. Over 300 buildings are now protected.
For the mission which was prepared over the past decade by Nice’s authorities to place the city on the UNESCO World Heritage List, the challenge was in convincing UNESCO to accept the fact that the town was not only concentrated along the famed Promenade des Anglais – Nice’s four-lane boulevard bordering the Mediterranean Sea.
Nice’s UNESCO status is also a tribute to tourism
Historical research indicates that Nice lived primarily from its winter holiday resort activities from 1760 to 1939. The city’s shaping in over 200 years has had a lot to do to its international tourism status.
It is thus no surprise that Nice today is France’s second most popular destination. Prior to the Covid crisis, Nice received 4.5 million travellers per year generating 68 million overnight stays. The city also has the second largest hotel inventory with 240 units representing over 12,400 rooms. In 2019, conferences and congresses attracted 811,000 participants while Nice international airport is the second busiest in France. In 2019, it welcomed 14.5 million passengers on 50 airlines.
Celebrities are among the tourists who have visited Nice for over 100 years. Among them are Queen Victoria of England, Russian tsar Alexander II or Giuseppe Garibaldi, one of the fathers of Italy’s unification.
Another important aspect of Nice’s development linked to tourism is also its cultural appeal. The urban landscapes and the exceptional lighting over the town turned Nice into the cultural capital of the Riviera. Chagall, Matisse, Dufy, Modigliani and César all lived in Nice. The city has more than a dozen museums as well as an opera house.
To obtain the UNESCO status, the local administration worked hard to eliminate what Mr Estrosi calls the “urban warts” that were destroying Nice’s harmony. Dozens of buildings, villas and gardens were also restored over the past decade.
“We have reduced car traffic, recovered the light and colours of our facades, replanted emblematic plants, revived and enacted urban planning rules in line with the tradition inherited from the heritage of Turin. To summarise, we have given back Nice’s face of beauty and joy,” said the Mayor during the press conference announcing UNESCO integration.