Prehistoric Elephant Camp: Terra Amata + Lazaret Cave

Prehistoric wooly mammoth

In the 1970’s while constructing an apartment building on the hill above the Nice Port, the workers found some strange artifacts…

An excavation ensued, and the archeologists discovered that Nice’s earliest tourists arrived almost 400,000 years ago, and were cave-dwellers that returned to Nice every year… to hunt woolly mammoths!

The artifacts discovered in this prehistoric elephant camp are now the Museum Terra Amata, and you can also visit the actual cave where the excavation continues (see below, with map).

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: 5€ for adults but kids under 18 are free.  Or get the 4-day all-museum pass for 15€ which gives you access to all 10 municipal museums in Nice.

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

Download the free AudioGuide in English: New for 2024, you can now download their free audioguide in English on your phone.  From Google Play or the App Store, just search for Terra Amata.

Tour the actual cave Grotte de Lazaret

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 more, and now you can go in and tour the actual cave at the Grotte de Lazaret… and it’s free!

Hours: 10am to 6pm in summer, 12-2pm in winter, closed Monday and Tuesday, and December 25th, January 1, and May 1.

Tickets: Free!

How to get there: The address is 33 bis boulevard Franck Pilatte, and you can walk it in 20 minutes from the Terra Amata museum; just follow the seaside and you’ll see the sign  just before the road veers off to the point.   Or take Bus #98 which leaves every 15 minutes; you can catch it at the tram stop Massena, or Cathedrale, or Port Lympia, getting off at Villa La Cote stop.  When you get off the bus, continue walking  in the same direction and take the first left and follow the signs.

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

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