• Chiara Orlandi

Nice and the flowers

Updated: Apr 10, 2018

Amongst other things, Nice owes is worldwide reputation to the flower cultivation that has been practiced since the 18th century.

Cours Saleya Flower Market, right in the heart of the city, opened its doors in 1897, and it is one of the oldest traditions in Nice.

Although today it is mostly made up of beautiful fruit and vegetables, the market still includes an extensive flower section, which is open every day except Mondays. While strolling along this multicolored fair, not only will you feast your eyes on a spectacular variety of flora, but you will also soak up the unique atmosphere of a place steeped with history.

The flower tradition in Nice dates back to the end of the XIX century, when the city was one of the world's leading flower-producers. Novelist and floriculturist Alphonse Karr brought the cut flowers trade in the French Riviera. He also opened the first flower shop in Nice.

The boom of flower trade in Nice was made possible by two factors: water supply in the hills of Nice, and the arrival of the railway in 1864. Flowers remained one of Nice’s leading industries until the last century, when it started to decline due to the urbanization process.

La cueillette des oeillets (postcard by Jean Gilletta)

Even so, to this day flowers still play an important role in image of Nice and the French Riviera. The most beautiful homage to this ancient tradition is the spectacular ‘Battle of Flowers’ that is performed during the Nice Carnival in February.

Battle of Flowers on the Promenade des Anglais
Bataille des fleurs. Photo: Nice Matin

Held since 1876, this massive parade is made up of beautifully decorated floats that shower thousand of flowers to the audience. Most of these flowers are produced locally and are planted a few months before the Carnival.

Bataille des fleurs. Battle of Flowers during the Carnival at Massena Square
Bataille des fleurs. Photo: Nice Matin

A curious story says that the Russian zar Nicolas II, who attended the parade during one of his winter holidays in Nice, remained so impressed by the show that he wanted to bring a similar one in St. Petersburg. For this purpose, he arranged two trains full of flowers to be delivered in Russia.

Henceforth symbol of the city, flowers are often seen adorning the Niçois balconies and are also present in the names of many city’s neighborhood and streets (Vallon des Fleurs, Valrose, Avenue de fleurs, Avenue des orangers, Rue de lilas, Rue de roses..)

Tags: Nice, French Riviera, Carnival, flowers, flower market