The Nice Carnival is one of the largest events organised on the French Riviera, attracting over 1 million visitors. It is one of the most famous carnivals in the world alongside the Rio de Janeiro and Venice Carnivals. The colourful event takes place during a two-week period in February. This time of the year offers a great opportunity to discover Nice and the French Riviera which enjoy a mild weather compared to the rest of France.
The Nice Carnival: a bit of History
The Nice Carnival is the most important Winter event on the French Riviera and has been run since the Middle-Ages.
In the Ancient Times the Winter solstice was an occasion for pagan festivals and renewal celebrations.
The word “carnival” derives from the Latin “carnelevare” meaning “to take out the meat”. The medieval Church banished meat from the table during the whole period of Lent, as it did with sugar, ingredients containing fat, eggs and dairy products. Before the start of the fasting period of Lent (on Ash Wednesday), people had fun running Carnivals as it was their last chance until Easter to eat meat.
The celebration was also a way to chase off the gloom of winter in the hope of Spring.
The first mention of a Carnival festival in Nice dates back to 1294 when Charles of Anjou, Count of Provence and King of Sicily, mentioned the ‘Joyful days of the Carnival’ during a stay in the city.
Until the 19th century the Nice Carnival was a street party without organised parades. In 1830 Charles-Felix, King of Sardinia and Duke of Savoy (1765-1831), and Queen Maria Cristina of Naples and Sicily came to Nice at the time of the carnival. To mark the royal visit, the city’s local authorities organised the first parade in their honour. Prominent residents of Nice dressed in elegant costumes paraded on decorated carriages past the palace balcony.
The first parade was a success and was renewed the following years in the absence of the king. The people of Nice made themselves of king of straw and old clothes and placed him on the palace balcony. In 1882 it was decided that the mock king should participate in the parade by signalling the beginning of the festivities. This explains why the arrival of the royal float with its gigantic character is such an important moment during the Nice Carnival. It is tradition for the king to preside over the carnival on the Place Masséna during the whole time of the festivities.
On the final night of the carnival, the effigy of the king is put out to sea on a little boat and burned before the traditional fireworks of the Bay of Angels.
During the 2nd half of the 19th century, the festival attracted the international elite and became a real show with floats and tribunes (introduced in 1873). The Flower Parade was introduced in 1876 as simple exchanges of flowers.
The 133rd edition of the Nice Carnival will take place from 11th to 25th February 2017. Every year a special theme is chosen for the king to preside over the parade:
2009: King of the Mascarades
2010: King of the Blue Planet
2011: King of the Mediterranean Sea
2012: King of Sport
2013: King of the Five Continents
2014: King of Gastronomy
2015: King of Music
2016: King of the Medias
2017: King of Energy
The carnival is a modern, high-quality show with a creative procession of floats made up of two different events: the Carnival Parade and the Flower Parade. During the parades, visitors won’t escape being hit by confetti, silly string (an aerosol spray that shoots foamy and sticky streamers) and even fresh flowers!
The Carnival Parade
The Carnival Parade takes place day and night on the Place Masséna and around the Jardin Albert 1er. Lasting 90 minutes, the colourful parade features 18 allegorical or burlesque floats, 1,000 musicians and dancers. The parade works its way up to a crescendo of gigantic celebrations with three leading floats: the King’s, the Queen’s and Carnivalon’s, their son.
Each of the floats are meticulously designed by the ‘Ymagiers’. The ‘Carnivaliers’ are the artist-craftsmen which then create the float with the performance elements. Then artistic coordinators oversee the passage to 3D.
The 18 floats measure 12 m long by 3 m wide and from 8 to 17 m high.
The Flower Parade
The Flower Parade takes place beside the sea on the famous Promenade des Anglais. The flower-decked floats of the parade are ride by extravagantly dressed performers who throw out mimosas, gerberas, and lilies to the public. The 16 floats of the parade are 7 m long by 2 m wide and 6 m high. Each float includes about 3,000 stems of which 70% is produced in the Nice region. Flower pricking takes 72 hours.
Every year the Carnival Queen is nominated to represent the spirit of the Flower Parade.
Videos of Nice Carnival
Here are a few videos that shows the celebrations of the Nice Carnival:
Best of the 2015 Nice Carnival
Carnival 2016 Teaser
Find out more about the Nice Carnival on the event’s official website.