The Baie des Anges (Bay of Angels) on the French Riviera has a romantic name, but where did it come from? These three stories give us some clues…
How the Bay of Angels Got its Name
Legend No. 1: Adam and Eve
Many rich and famous tourists visit Nice every year, but according to a legend, the first visitors were actually Adam and Eve – yes, the ones from the Bible.
They Lost Their Home
As the story goes, after they were kicked out of Paradise for being naughty, they were standing outside the locked gates looking at their new hostile surroundings. Everywhere was barren and inhospitable. They had no idea where to go or what to do.
Led by Angels
Then they heard the sound of rustling wings, looked up to see a band of angels flying overhead and motioning to them. As they watched, the angels flew across the waters and hovered over a certain spot. They were showing the couple a glorious bay, in front of a land that was as lush and beautiful as the Eden they could no longer enter.
And where do you think that bay was? Right here on the French Riviera. According to some, that is how the lovely bay which fronts Nice got its name, the “Baie des Anges” (Bay of Angels).
Same Legend, Different City
Menton, a city just down the coast from Nice, also claims this legend, with one addition. Apparently when Eve left the Garden of Eden she took a lemon with her. She was looking for a place worthy of the lovely fruit and when she saw Menton she left the lemon there. Menton is known for its lemons and has a wonderful lemon festival every year.
Where did They Live?
Well, I can’t say for sure if Adam and Eve settled in Menton or in Nice, but my theory is this: First, they visited Menton, thought it was beautiful, left the lemon and then saw that Nice was even more beautiful and made it their home.
Why do I think this? Well, for one thing, their house is still standing in the Old Town of Nice. It has a magnificent carved frieze depicting the first couple sporting their fig leaves. They each have some sort of club and it looks like they might be having a domestic quarrel. It is called “La Maison d‘Adam et Eve” (Adam and Eve’s house) and is at No. 8, rue de la Poissonnerie where the street meets Cours Saleya.
This house is dated 1584 (ok, so maybe the first couple didn’t really live there). Some say that this club-toting couple represents the original owners of the house who were known for their arguments. Whatever it is meant to symbolize, it is a lovely bit of decoration and easy to miss if you are not looking for it.
Legend No. 2: Sainte Réparate
If the first legend is a bit too far-fetched for you, how about this one: It has to do with a 15-year-old Christian girl from Caesarea, Israel who was a victim of Roman persecution in the year 250.
Killed by the Romans
They tried to burn her at the stake but it started to rain and put out the fire. Then they forced her to drink boiling tar but that didn’t do the job either. Finally they cut off her head and put her body in a little boat which they set adrift on the Mediterranean Sea.
She Arrives in Nice
The angels guided the boat into the same bay where they had guided Adam and Eve all those years before. The bones of Sainte Réparate are in the cathedral in the Old Town which bears her name in Place Rossetti. But wait a minute…according to the Cathedral history, her bones arrived in 1060. So, was the poor girl adrift at sea for 800 years? I don’t know, but this is another theory for why the bay is called the “Baie des Anges” (Bay of Angles).
A Fish Story
If the above two legends don’t suit you, how about a fish story? At one time the bay had many angel sharks in it. But don’t worry, the angel shark is a relatively harmless shark with fins shaped like wings and they are no longer found in these waters. When the fishermen saw these winged sea creatures they must have thought they resembled angels. There you have it, the third possible explanation for the name, Bay of Angels.
So did the name come from heavenly angels or underwater angels? Who knows? Personally, I prefer the first legend. It is more romantic (and less violent). What about you? Which one is your favourite?
*The story of Adam and Eve is told in a long poem called, “A Last Canto to Milton’s Paradise Lost” (“Un dernier chant au paradis perdu de Milton” in French), written in 1856 by Alexis de Jussieu, a French naturalist and poet.
Find Out More – You can read more about the history of Nice in my book, Curious Histories of Nice, France.
You Might Also Like:
- French Expressions Pop Up in the Park
- April Fool or April Fish?
- Basel Switzerland: Water Monsters and Cheeky Kings
Follow Me – If you would like to keep up with my articles, you can receive an email every time I post (every other week or so). Just enter your email below and click the Follow the Curious Rambler button.
- Coronations That Went Wrong - 7 May 2023
- The Story of Tortellini: A War, a Trophy Bucket, and a Belly Button-Shaped Pasta - 25 April 2023
- Beatrix Potter: Mushrooms, Bunnies, and Sheep - 1 March 2023
The first is my favorite, as well. You are a natural storyteller. Keep up the good work.
Thanks Mary Jane.
It’s funny how a nice story like that got left out of the Bible, isn’t it? 😉
Whatever your personal preferences, this is definitely the “Fish story” which is the right one.
Most of the toponymies in Nissa come from the nature, the environment, or animals/people’s names. This is the case for the “baie des anges”, where fishermen worked all days long since centuries. And the “ange” is actually the name of the angel shark, as mentioned in your article. In nissart language, its name is “pèi-ange” (angel fish), but it is shortly named “ange”.
To understand better Nice and its places, think to 2 things:
– the local works, way of life, manners, traditions, beliefs…
– the nissart language (and not french, which is widely spoken since 1860 only)
With this approach you will discover more about Nissa’s country roots.
Thanks for the additional information and tips, Sébastien. The input of a real “nissart” is always appreciated.
I agree, this is the explanation I was given as a “nissart” kid
Thanks, Rosine. The legends are just a bit of fun.
All the best, -Margo