Ancient Roman Bath Ruins/Cimiez Archeological Museum

Roman ruins on Cimiez Hill in Nice FranceA Roman city similar in size to Pompeii used to sit on Cimiez in Nice, where the ruins of the Roman Bath Complex are now a museum.

Back in Roman times the seaside was just for fishing and all the real action was up here on Cimiez, in an elaborate Roman city called Cemenelum, which was 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) which you can still see in the Cimiez gardens, and is still used for a theater in summer.

The Roman city boasted a small army, and the town center had a market square and temple (to Mars!), lots of shops and businesses, elaborate walled homes, and an enormous 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 and undiscovered under the current residential neighborhood, but the one major exception is this impressive bath/spa complex, which is now the Roman Bath Ruins/Archeological Museum.

How to get there:  Take bus #5 and get off at 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 Musée Archéologique, 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, which would cost around 10€ from the Old Town, or even better: first-time Uber users can click here and save 10€ on each of your first 5 rides.  Don’t take a regular taxi as it would cost 15-20€ or more.

Hours: 10am to 6pm (5pm in winter); closed Tuesdays, May 1, Easter Sunday, Christmas and Jan. 1.

Tickets: 5€ for adults but kids under 18 are free.  Or 10€ with admission to the Matisse Museum next door.  Or better yet, get the 4-day all museum pass for just 15€ which gives you access to all 10 municipal museums in Nice for 96 hours.

Free for children under 18, students of any age with student ID, locals with the blue Pass Musée, or with the French Riviera Pass.

How to best see the ruins

The museum itself is in two parts; start with the interior where you’ll find lots of curious artifacts found around the site, and with very helpful interpretive explanations in French and English.

Now, take one of the excellent laminated site maps (in multiple languages), and 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.

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 (free) next to the church entrance.

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 #5 toward Nice for just a couple of stops, to the Musee Chagall bus stop.

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

Photo by Alain Morana

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