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 the remains of the ancient city 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 Garibaldi Archaeological Crypte 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 to tunnel in 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) which run 3 times a day every afternoon from Tuesday through Sunday in summer, and Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday in Winter. The tours must be booked in advance (04 92 00 41 90) and the tickets purchased and picked up from the Centre du Patrimoine.
How to get there: Once you have your ticket, the meeting place for the tour is Square Toja, which is the triangle next to Monoprix, just off place Garibaldi. As the crypt is entirely underground, the only landmark is the black elevator sticking up next to the stairs. To get to Square Toja, you can walk; take the tramway to Garibaldi; or take bus 3, 7, 9, 10, 14, 27 or 81 to the Promenade des Arts stop.
Hours: The 45-minute tours start at 2pm, 3pm and 4pm; closed Mondays, May 1, Easter Sunday, Christmas and Jan. 1.
Cost: The ticket for admission and guided tour is 5€ for adults, and 2.50€ for children, students, seniors over 65, and handicapped persons.
Tickets: Your ticket is for a 15-person guided tour, which is the only way to get in to see the Crypt. You can reserve and pay for your ticket online here, or reserve by telephone (04 92 00 41 90) and then pick up your ticket at the Centre du Patrimoine, (open weekdays only) which is located in the big square in the middle of Cours Saleya in the Old Town, tram stop Opera. From here it’s a 10 minute walk to the Crypt.
The Tour: At the moment the 45-minute tours are in French, but a private tour in English can be arranged for up to 15 people for 80€ through the Centre du Patrimoine. But even not fully understanding a French tour, it is worth going down to see, as the ruins of the ancient city are as impressive as the Crypt under the Louvre in Paris. They have really done a fantastic job with interpretive drawings and images, so you can get the gist without understanding the actual words: you can clearly see the entry to the walled fortress that was the Chateau, the guard tower, the moat, the drawbridge, exterior city walls, a roman-style aqueduct and outbuildings.
By the way, flat shoes are required, and for security reasons, no children under 7 allowed.
Related page on the History of Nice: 21 Fascinating Facts About Nice
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