Travel through the Riviera’s tumultuous history with Michael Nelson

The French Riviera: A History ranges from the Terra Amata in Nice, occupied from 380,000 years ago and one of the oldest inhabited prehistoric sites in the world, through to settlement by Greeks, Romans, Franks, Ostrogoths and Visigoths, wars and revolutions, to the establishment of the Silicon Valley of France in Sophia-Antipolis in 1974. 

One might assume that a destination as well-known as the French Riviera would not be lacking in books about its history – but this was not the case. “When I was launching my book, Americans and the Making of the Riviera, in Nice in 2008, Lin Wolff, owner of the English Book Centre in Valbonne in the Alpes-Maritimes, told me that customers were frequently coming into her shop and asking: ‘Do you have a general history of the Riviera in English?’” explains Michael. “She did not, because it did not exist. ‘Why don’t you write one?’, she said. So I did.”

The French Riviera: A History ranges from the Terra Amata in Nice, occupied from 380,000 years ago and one of the oldest inhabited prehistoric sites in the world, through to settlement by Greeks, Romans, Franks, Ostrogoths and Visigoths, wars and revolutions, to the establishment of the Silicon Valley of France in Sophia-Antipolis in 1974. The Riviera was part of Provence in France for much of its history and was often a microcosm of France itself, with many dynastic struggles and horrific blood-letting.

Colour maps and plates illustrate The French Riviera: A History , and it is also full of fascinating anecdotes. Examples include the loan of a guillotine by Nice to Grasse in the French Revolution (Nice had no victims and Grasse had thirty) and the occasion when Jean Moulin, the leader of the French Resistance in World War II, invited the Germans to the opening of an art gallery in Nice which he was using as a front. In the nineteenth and twentieth century the British and Americans led tourism, and the Riviera was described by Somerset Maugham as ‘a sunny place for shady people’.

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