Prehistoric Elephant Camp – Terra Amata and the Lazaret Cave

Prehistoric wooly mammothAn excavation on the hill above the Nice Port found that Nice’s earliest visitors arrived almost 400,000 years ago, and were cave-dwellers that returned to Nice every year to hunt woolly mammoths!  The findings of this prehistoric elephant camp is now the Museum Terra Amata.

In prehistoric times the climate was warmer and the sea was higher, so this now hillside excavation was actually right on the beach. Every year the tribal hunters returned to their elephant hunting grounds and lived in this deep cave, which had its own fresh water spring.  They dug fire pits and erected little stone walls to protect the fire from the wind; this is some of the earliest evidence of domesticated fire in Europe.   They created picks, hatchets, scrapers and other tools from the stones found on the beach, and as the charred bones around the campfires show, they not only hunted elephants, but also deer and rabbits.

Prehistoric elephant campThis small museum will give you a feel for what cave man life was like here in prehistoric times.  Each area has large-print interpretive panels in multiple languages (including English) that you can pick up and walk around with as you check out the exhibits.  The museum is small and can be done in 30 minutes, and it great for children as it features lots of drawings, murals, models, and a reconstructed cave man hut, which creates a good context for understanding the excavated artifacts.

How to get there: 

  • Walk: It’s a 10-15 minute walk in a straight line from Place Garibaldi; just follow rue Cassini to the Port, cross the port, and on the other side continue up Boulevard Carnot for 5 minutes, and you’ll see it on your left.
  • Tramway: Tram stop Port Lympia, then follow walking instructions, above.

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

Tickets: 15€ for adults, but your ticket gives you access to all 10 municipal museums in Nice for 48-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. Click here for more info on the ticket/museum pass including which museums you get access to, suggested ways to group them, and some strategy to make the most of your 48 hours.

Tour the actual cave

A 20-minute walk from Terra Amata around the port will bring you to the actual cave where all this was excavated.  This dig has been going on for 50 years and they keep discovering so much, and now you can go in and tour the actual cave at the Grotte de Lazaret.  They can only take small groups, and the tours leave every 30 minutes all day long.

Hours: 10am to 6pm, closed Monday and Tuesday, and December 25th, January 1, and May 1.

Tickets: Free!

How to get there: The adresse is 33 bis boulevard Franck Pilatte.  You can walk it in 20 minutes, or take Bus #38 which leaves every 15 minutes; you can catch at the tram stop Massena, or Cathedrale, or Port Lympia, getting off at Villa La Cote stop.  Walk in the same direction and take the first left and follow the signs.  Or take Bus #15 and get off at the Maeterlinck stop, then keep walking and take the first right down the long stairway to the dig.

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

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