Pioneering tourism becoming a UNESCO heritage site

The list of 34 sites promoted by UNESCO on 27 July includes not only the Roberto Burle Marx garden in Rio de Janeiro, legacy of the Brazilian landscape architect who created the concept of the modern tropical garden, but also three cultural wonders of France.

The city’s seafront is the heart of the project

The lighthouse of Cordouan, built near Bordeaux, at the mouth of the Gironde river, at the end of the 18th century, the spa town of Vichy, with its 2000 years of thermalism and its urbanism mixing Second Empire and Art Nouveau, and part of the urban area of Nice, awarded for its architecture of winter resort that was born taking advantage of the climate and the exceptional landscapes of the Riviera, have become World Heritage sites.

The Saint Nicolas church on a 1932 postcard

Working for 13 years on this nomination, the Mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi, has celebrated an exceptional event, unique in the history of “Nissa la bella” for its international repercussion. Extremely detailed, the decision of UNESCO does not concern the whole city, but exclusively the areas urbanised since the end of the 18th century, districts where the first tourists left a rich heritage.

They were English or Russian aristocrats, Austrian or American millionaires, who followed in the footsteps of Empress Josephine, the Tsars of Russia and Queen Victoria, building palaces, houses, hotels or churches, with an original cosmopolitan architecture.

The Englishman’s Castle (or Pink Castle), architectural folly of 1856

Icomos, the international council of monuments and sites that analysed the dossier, attached the greatest importance to the definition of the chosen perimeter – which had to be strictly linked to the tourist development of the city – and to the successful efforts to preserve it – guaranteed by the city government’s commitments in this regard. Strong support was required from the countries taking part in the vote – especially Russia, closely linked to this page in the history of Nice – to reach the final compromise, the choice of a 522-hectare World Heritage site surrounded by 4,243 hectares of areas protecting the architectural and urban coherence of the whole.

The natural beauty of the Parc du Colline du Château
The natural beauty of the Parc du Colline du Château

To inscribe Nice on the world heritage list, UNESCO has highlighted its pioneering spirit and its specific attractions. The city takes advantage of an exceptional landscape and a sunny climate. Town planning takes harmonious advantage of the location between sea and mountains, with avenues and promenades designed since 1831 to attract visitors. Nice was a pioneer in “vegetalising” its streets, planting trees and palm trees, as well as an immense botanical garden. The architectural heritage is impressive, as much for its Italian, Russian or English origins, as for the diversity of styles, neo-classicism, Art Nouveau, Art D├ęco or modernism, which exudes a peculiar art of living, an exoticism and a well being which has always fascinated tourists and artists from all over the world.

Massena Square, the “darling child of victory