8 years ago, while jack-hammering up Place Garibaldi to lay the rails for the tramway, the workers noticed some strange stone structures just 10 centimeters below the asphalt… that turned out to be remains dating back to 1380! Mandated by law to uncover the ruins (and delaying the tramway by a year), the city-sponsored dig slowly uncovered the mysteries of a Medieval Nice long-forgotten. Place Garibaldi, it turns out, was the site of the entry to the walled fortress that was the Chateau, complete with turrets, a moat, a drawbridge, exterior walls, an aqueduct and outbuildings.
Once all the studies were completed, after the massive delay and expense of the dig, the most cost-effective route would have been to fill it all back in and let the tramway work continue. But no! At great cost, the Ville de Nice did not fill it back in, but found a way to just cover over the top, and continued to dig under Place Garibaldi for another several years, trying to preserve this unprecedented historical find and make the resulting archaeological crypt accessible to the public.
The highly anticipated Archaeological Crypt Garibaldi is now open to the public… sort of. There is only one entrance, so to meet modern security norms, disabled access, etc., they are limited to a paltry 15 visitors at a time, which definitely puts a crimp on things. The city is looking to buy a nearby shop, and tunnel a second entrance, but that will take years, so for now, to descend the 31 steps into 600 years of Nice’s Medieval past, we will have to make do with a rather awkward entry system.
The only way to get into the Crypt is to go with the guided tour (in French) for just 5€, which run 5 times a day (10am, 11am, 2pm, 3pm, 4pm) every day but Tuesday. The tours must be booked in advance and the tickets purchased and picked up from the Centre du Patrimoine, 75 quai des Etats-Unis, just on the sea-side of the Old Town (04 92 00 41 90). Then on the appointed day and time, you meet at the entrance to the Crypt (right next to Monoprix off Place Garabaldi).
31 steps… into another world.
Related page on the History of Nice: 21 Fascinating Facts About Nice