Sommaire / Summary
The Place Massena in Nice is a lively city center, close to the Old Nice. Its configuration, as well as its location, as well as the proximity of famous shops, make this square a must in Nice, where Nice residents and visitors mingle.
Massena square in Nice
The square has existed since 1820-1830, when Nice was under the domination of the kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia. The purpose of this square was to allow an easy crossing of the river Paillon which encircled the old city to the west. Its creation thus allowed a beautiful urban development, but not immediate and not without difficulties. It was the Consiglio d’Ornato,the Council of embellishment that was responsible for the operations, for decades and until the annexation of France.
To the west of the Paillon, the city already existed, connected by a bridge, named Charles-Albert, after the Sardinian king. But the people of Nice nicknamed it the Pont neuf. On the other side of the bridge, the piazza quadrata, the square square, stretched out. On the side of the Old Nice, the square was round.
It is all this surface which had to be redeveloped, from the round square, passing by the bridge until the end of the square. At this point, the Paillon sometimes flowed violently and overflowed its bed. The architects tried to give an architectural unity to this large square where several streets of the Old Nice and others of the city west of the Paillon crossed. But the flooding of the Paillon slowed down the development of the city towards the west.
The great architectural unity finally intervened in the 1850s, a unity due to the architect Joseph Vernier, pardon Giuseppe Vernier, architect from Turin. It was he who imposed the arcades of the square. Number of arcades, spacing between pillars, everything was regulated, in order to respond to the aesthetics already in place on the side of the Charles-Albert square, towards the Old Nice.
The floods had caused the ground to deteriorate quite a bit.
The French annexation and the Massena square in Nice
Repair of the pavement of the square
When Nice became French in 1860 (and no longer part of the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia), Emperor Napoleon III came to visit the city. Needless to say, the ground was completely rehabilitated on this occasion. And the square, which finally united the Charles-Albert square (on the Old Nice side) and the quadrata square (on the New Nice side), was named after André Massena, Marshal of the Empire, a native of Nice.
Needless to say, this name was contested throughout our history, but in the end it endured.
Recovery of the Paillon
This Massena square was already imposing, but there was still this cut of the Paillon river. It was then decided to cover it. From 1866-1868, the river was covered in its part which was going to give the square Masséna (become square Albert 1er), between the place Massena and the current Promenade des Anglais.
The covering was completed only in 1883, after many vicissitudes.
And as of the final completion of the place Massena, it attracted many tradesmen and tourists. A casino was even created to attract men, while Madame and children could enjoy theaters and gardens.
And of course, the city developed a transportation network, which made this square, the center of the new city of Nice, as opposed to Old Nice.
Numerous redevelopments followed, including at the very beginning of the 21st century, the establishment of 7 illuminated statues, due to the Catalan sculptor and architect Jaume Plensa. These 7 statues on high pillars symbolize the 7 continents. They light up differently depending on the period. They give a deep personality to this already imposing Massena square.
See also our pages on the Fountain of the Sun, the Promenade du Paillon and the Water Mirror.