The Promenade des Anglais, affectionately known as “the Prom”, is one of the most beautiful seaside boulevards to be found and lucky me, I live right by it. Our new apartment is about a 3 minute walk to the sea and this lovely promenade.
A place for everyone… On the wide pedestrian thoroughfare, you can see people walking, jogging, skating, and biking. (There are bike rental stations placed along the way for those with the urge to ride but no bike.) Others just sit and enjoy the view, either of the calming blue waves or of the sunbathers on the pebbly beach below.
The sea is not the only thing that is azure… You might notice a definite blue theme going on here. The chairs are blue, many of the parasols on the beach are blue, the rental bikes are blue and even the bins (trash cans) are coordinated with the colour of the sea and sky.
But what about the name?… “Promenade des Anglais” means “avenue of the English”. So what is an English avenue doing in this French city? Well, to find out, we have to go back to the early 1800s. At this time, many wealthy English tourists were coming to Nice to spend their winters. They settled mainly in the area to the west of the Old Town, where they built villas and hotels as well as establishing their own Anglican church and cemetery.
They wanted to walk by the sea… Since many of these winter visitors came to the area for health reasons, they wanted to be able to walk or ride in their carriages along the sea and breathe in the health-restoring air. But that was difficult because the seafront was a marshy and rocky place at that time.
Crop failure… At the same time that these church-going, sun-seeking English visitors were dreaming of walking by the sea, another problem arose. The region was hit by hard times. Two seasons of bad harvests reduced many people in Nice to begging. And where did they go to ask for money? To the rich tourists, of course. But giving charity to those physically able to work was contrary to the early 19th century British mindset. They thought it demoralised the poor and led to dependence on handouts.
A problem-solving priest… Reverend Lewis Way, the local Anglican priest came up with a brilliant plan. He saw the opportunity to remedy the problems of both the English and the Niçois with one project. He took up a collection among the English to build their seaside promenade. Then he hired the poor and unemployed to build it. It was a win-win situation. The English would have their healthy walks by the sea and the poor would find honourable work.
The English can promenade at last… In 1824 the first promenade was completed. The modest unpaved walkway/road was 2 meters (6 ½ feet) wide. Officially it was called the “strada del littorale”, or “seaside road”, but the people of Nice called it “camin dei Inglés” which in French became the “Promenade des Anglais” (English Promenade) because it was financed by and used by the English community.
The Prom grows and grows… In 1835 the city took over the upkeep of “the Prom” and it has been enlarged and improved many times over the years. The result is what we see today – a wide boulevard with lanes for pedestrians, bikes, and automobiles, running along the magnificent azure sea. It is one of the loveliest promenades that you can find anywhere and is a great example of something beautiful being created by people working together to solve their problems.
Find Out More – You can read more about the history of Nice in my book, Curious Histories of Nice, France.
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