Yesterday started the colorful Nice Carnival that for 150 years marked the arrival of spring in the city. Huge inflatable sculptures, live music, tons of confetti, battle of flowers and scenic night parades… everything this year will be governed by the theme “The King of World’s Treasures”.
Imagine life in mid-February. Everyone wants to escape the dark, the cold, the grey and overcast skies. Certain dream of Rio and Carnival. But there is an answer a little closer to home — the Med. Just head South to visit the biggest party on the Continent of Europe, after Venice: Rio, Venice and Nice, it doesn’t get more «Carnivalesque» than those three. Food and wine to die for. Add in those sunny Mediterranean winter days and all the glitz of Monaco next door, and you have a royal party. Yes — Nice Carnival is very much a royal affair traditionally ruled by the King and Queen.
Nice Carnival Traditions
This year, from February 10 to 26, the Carnival of Nice is ruled by the The King of World’s Treasures. The King leads the procession through the city streets. There is a carnival village to welcome you in Jardin Albert I with entertainment, gourmet stands, conferences and shows as well as the ticket office.
During the parade, the king presides over more than fifty giant-headed puppets (the Grosses Têtes) each contemplating a jubilant crowd from a height of twelve meters and weighing up to two tons.
Nowadays, carnival chariots parade the main streets to the rhythm of modern music. In the past, the procession used to be accompanied by medieval instruments made of a calabash gourd, a special African pumpkin.
Not far away from Masséna Square, there is also an iconic Flower Parade which dates back to 1876. The Parade is also called the battle of flowers since the performers launch flowers into the crowds. There is nothing even a little bit warlike about it, happily!
A Few Words about Carnival of Nice’s History
This French Riviera festival may actually be the oldest Carnival in historic records — going back over 700 years, and most definitely Royal — visited by a Count and a King in its genesis. The Carnival of Nice is first mentioned in the 13th century when Charles of Anjou, Count of Provence and King of Sicily, trilled about the «Joyful days of the Carnival» during his sojourn in the city.
The Carnival has been booming since 1830 when Charles-Felix, King of Sardinia and Duke of Savoy, and Queen Maria Cristina of Naples and Sicily came to Nice to celebrate the ancient carnival. To mark the royal occasion, the city held the first parade in their honour.
Interestingly, meat was traditionally eaten over the Carnival. The word «carnival» actually comes from the Latin «carnelevare» which means «to take out the meat». The medieval Church banned meat from the table during the whole period of Lent. So before Lent people had a ball creating Carnivals as it was their last opportunity until Easter to eat meat. The celebration was also a way to chase away the gloom of winter while awaiting the blessing of spring.
It is now a tradition for a mock version of the king to preside over the carnival on Place Masséna during the whole time of this scintillating celebration. On the last evening of the carnival, the effigy of the king is launched into the sea on a small boat and burned before the traditional fireworks in the Bay of Angels.
The Festival has metamorphosed into a day parade of incredible sparkle and imagination of an immense scale with a giant party and lit version at night, a kaleidoscopic extravaganza in neon.