The Ancient Roman Bath Ruins

The Roman Bath Ruins/Musee Archeologique

In Roman times, all the action was up here on Cimiez, in an elaborate Roman city called Cemenelum, and the capital of the Riviera for over 400 years, between the 1st and 4th centuries. Similar in size to Pompeii, the city had an amphitheater that could hold 5000 spectators (for theater, and yes, gladiators), a small army, a market square and temple (to Mars!), lots of shops and businesses, elaborate walled homes, and a huge bath/spa complex, which was one of the great pleasures and social hub of Roman life.  Most of the ruins of the ancient city are still buried under the current city, but the one major excavation is this impressive bath/spa complex.

How to get there:  Take bus 15, 17, 20, or 25, bus stop Les Arènes / Musée Matisse; or click here for a page on how to get to the Cimiez Museums by bus.  When you get off the bus you will see the entrance to the Cimiez Gardens, and signs pointing to the Musee Archeologique, which is just around the curve to your right, on the same street.  But first, whet your appetite with a peek into the the ancient Roman amphitheater (free), which is just inside the entry to the Cimiez Gardens.

If you don’t want to bother with the bus, an easy option is to take an Uber-X taxi, which would cost around 8-9€ from the Old Town.  Don’t take a regular taxi as it would cost 15-20€ or more.

Hours: 10am to 6pm; closed Tuesdays, May 1, Easter Sunday, Christmas and Jan. 1.

Tickets: 10€ for adults, and your ticket includes admission to both the Roman Baths on Cimiez and the Prehistoric Elephant Camp in the Port (and also the tiny Museum of Natural History behind Place Garibaldi), within 48-hours.  Free for children under 18, students of any age with student ID, locals with the blue Pass Musee, or with the French Riviera Pass.

If you want to see any other museums, like say the Matisse Museum, since you will be so close, better to take the 20€ 7-day municipal museum card good for 14 museums and galleries in Nice.    Click here for more info on the various museum passes.

How to see it:    The English explanations are rather limited, and the tours are only in French, but you don’t really need French to appreciate this site, you just need your imagination.   Just read this quick and fascinating Wikipedia summary of how the Roman bath complex worked, and then wander around and let your imagination do the rest.

The museum itself is on two levels, with household effects including ceramics and sculptures, and an area of funeral pieces from the period; but one of the most interesting displays are the bits that they found in the women’s changing room of the baths… the sculpted hairpins, earrings, etc., that were lost or forgotten in the locker room.

Now, head outside and wander all around the cobblestoned roads through the ruins.  There are three sections, all with similar facilities: locker rooms, toilets (side-by-side, very social!), sport rooms, and the baths which have a hot building (the calderium, think scald-arium!) with a wet steam room and hot baths, the tepidarium building which was more of a dry steam room, and the frigidarium, which as the name implies, was a for bracing cold dip, and the one building that is still standing was one of the three frigidariums.  The complex also had a swimming pool and a cathedral, and is laced with an elaborate piping system, pump houses and furnace rooms (which you can see best in the east (est) section. The baths were not just to get clean, they were the major social activity, meeting point, and gossip hub of Roman life.

WHILE YOU’RE UP ON CIMIEZ…

Back inside the Cimiez gardens, you’ll find yourself in a 500-year-old olive grove, with the Matisse Museum on the right, and, just ahead, an ancient Franciscan Monastery with magnificent Italian-style gardens to explore (free), and a tiny Friar’s museum in the church.

By the way, the paths in the Cimiez gardens are all named after jazz musicians because this olive grove was the site of the Nice Jazz Festival until just a few years ago when it moved down to Place Massena.

If you want to now visit the Chagall Museum, just pass the Regina and walk down the scenic tree-lined boulevard de Cimiez for 15-minutes (it’s all downhill).   Or take Bus #15 toward Nice for 6 stops, to the Musee Chagall bus stop.

See related page on the History of Nice:  21 Fascinating Facts About Nice  

Photo credits: Amphitheatre by Eric Coffinet, Bath ruins by Nataraja, licensed under Creative Commons.

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