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.
Traditions of the Carnival of Nice
This coming year, from February 15 to 29, the Carnival of Nice will be ruled by the Fashion King with his beautiful Queen. The King will lead the procession through the city streets, with the participation of famous fashion designers and personalities. The organizers have not yet revealed the secrets they keep in store for this dizzying festival. But the spirit of the famous designer and art director of Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld, may well be present. A close friend of the Monaco princely family, he sadly passed away in 2019 leaving a bright imprint in the world of fashion and in the hearts of his admirers alike.
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!
In 2020 the Carnival of Nice is celebrating its 136th anniversary! What are the origins of this centuries-old tradition?
A few words about the Carnival’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.