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Riviera Pebbles Blog: Remembering the Riviera's fallen

Posted on 19th Jun 2014 in Muse Mag


Nice Port's War Memorial - courtesy of Jesmar for WikiMedia Commons

Sited at the strategic crossroads of Europe, everyone has wanted a piece of France. Greeks, Romans, Vandals and Normans have all staked a claim. More recent invasions by Italians, Germans, Americans and Brits changed the course of history – much of it on the Southern French beaches where Europe now sunbathes all summer long.

Hundreds of Monuments aux Morts, or War Memorials, are scattered across Provence. Some are displayed in the tiniest village squares, like in Bormes-les-Mimosas, Bandol and Bargemon. Others, like the grand memorials in Nice and St Tropez, remember the centenary of World War I in July 1914, the 70th anniversary of D-Day in June 1944, or the coming seven-decade tribute of the end WWII in May 1945.

It’s the Monument aux Morts on quai Rauba-Capeù that commemorates the affair that changed history. Before Word War I, the hotels of the French Riviera welcomed Prussian nobility, Austrian dukes and Russian aristocrats. Those clients were either deposed by the mob, or discouraged from frivolous behaviour as the Soviet era dawned.

As war raged on the Western Front, the Negresco Hotel became a recovery centre for the injured. The 16,309-crystal Baccarat chandelier hanging in the hotel’s salon was originally commissioned by Tsar Nicholas II of Russia. He was assassinated before he could take delivery.

This 32m-high monument on Nice Port remembers the 4,000 locals who fell during the four fateful years of WWI. Niçois architect Roger Séassal did a superb job. The eagle of Nice, surrounded by giant reliefs signifying War, Peace, Liberty and Victory, has become a city symbol in its own right. In later years, Séassal designed buildings across the French Riviera, including the Centre Universitaire Méditerranéen on the Promenade des Anglais, and the Monte-Carlo Beach Hotel in Monaco.

In 1944, American, British and Free French troops liberated the French Riviera from a different tyrant. Early that year, Allied aircraft based in Corsica bombed Nazi traffic around Nice-Ville train station, which is why the surrounding Musiciens quarter is a hodgepodge of old and new buildings. French author and pilot Antoine de Saint-Exupéry crash-landed near Cassis as he surveyed the occupied coast.

That August liberation came. Led by the American U.S. Seventh Army, some 200,000 troops poured into the beaches of Cap Negre (where Carla Bruni now lives) and Plage Pampelonne (where A-list guests now party like there’s no tomorrow). The most poignant reminder in the Var region resides at the windswept sands of Plage Dramont beach near St Tropez. Some 65,000 men and 6,000 vehicles were landed on this sleepy shore. One of the American landing craft, the US282, still rests in the sand.


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