The Garibaldi Crypt Tour
The Garibaldi Crypt is an underground surprise that you would never suspect is hiding under Place Garibaldi. You can see the ruins of the Medieval Old Town with an underground tour.
Years ago, while jack-hammering up Place Garibaldi for the new 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 they do only in small group tours only in French, which definitely puts a crimp on things.
But even not fully understanding a French tour, it is still worth going down the 31 steps to see 600 years of history; 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 everything they say: 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.
A private tour in English can be arranged for up to 15 people for 80€ through the Centre du Patrimoine.
Cost: The ticket for admission and guided tour is 7€ for adults, and 3€ for students, seniors over 65, and handicapped persons. Free for kids under 18, and holders of the French Riviera Pass. Flat shoes required, and no children under 7 for security reasons.
Hours: The 45-minute guided tour happens 3 times a day, from 2pm, 3pm and 4pm from Tuesday through Sunday in summer, and Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday in Winter. The tours must be booked in advance and the tickets can be purchased online. Closed Mondays, May 1, Easter Sunday, Christmas and Jan. 1.
You can also buy tickets at the Centre de Patrimoine in Old Nice, at the top of Cours Saleya and to your left. I recommend this as the people at the desk speak English, are passionate about Nice’s history, and have lots of brochures and other tours that are in English.
The meeting place for the tour is Square Toja, which is the triangle to the left of the Monoprix, just off Place Garibaldi, tram stop Garibaldi. As the crypt is entirely underground, the only landmark is the black elevator sticking up next to the stairs.
Related page on the History of Nice: 21 Fascinating Facts About Nice
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