This corner of the Mediterranean is very old indeed. In the 1960s, workmen on a hill, prophetically called Terra Amata (Beloved Earth), discovered the remains of a prehistoric camp. Archaeologist Henry de Lumley identified it as a meeting—and feasting—place dating back roughly half a million years, perhaps, ironically, to the ancestors of the Berbers who would later populate the whole rim of the Mediterranean, from Algeria to Lebanon. The name of the town came from the Greeks— Niké, victory. And the Romans settled here and founded a city high in the hills for fear of the pirates and mosquitoes that infested the coast; they built an arena to practice their favorite pastimes, circus games and the immolation of Christians. They say the ghost of a martyred virgin still haunts that district.
What does it mean for me, being born and growing up in such a town? Does its antiquity give me (and everyone born here) a curious feeling of superiority, a kind of skepticism, an inclination to fatalism? As if everything had come here, carried by the sea waves and the invasions, as if everything had landed here, driven by storms or coming with the tide, onto the worn and weather-beaten pebbled beach.
Nissa, which became Nizza under the rule of the Genoese and of the Savoyards, had nothing of the provincial about it. It produced great men like the geographer Gioffredo and the mathematician Cassini, the patriot Garibaldi, the audacious general Masséna, and many artists, like the religious painters Ludovico Brea and Giovanni Canavesio. Nice is animated by a proud libertarian spirit and uses as its emblem a combative red eagle (its beak turned to the right) whose claws clutch the three totem hills of the county: Mont Boron, Castle Hill, and Mont Alban. It shares with Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico the privilege of keeping a live eagle in a cage (a curious symbol of freedom!).