The first written account dates from 1294 by the Count of Provence, Charles II Duke of Anjou who “comes to spend the carnival celebrations in his good city of Nice”. In the 14th and 15th centuries, the carnival was above all a popular festival. During the Renaissance, the great carnival balls and masquerades were held in the narrow streets of the city, whereas in the 18th century, the influence of the Venetian carnival favored masked balls.
In the second half of the 19th century, Nice became the “capital of winter resorts”. The carnival takes place mainly on “le Cours”, a high place of social life. In 1871, the Parisian chaos created by the Commune frightened the rich wintering members of the nobility. In order to promote the city of Nice and to show the serenity that reigns there, a festival committee was created in 1873. This committee set up the carnival as a real show, then organized parades of floats, masquerades, and cavalcades for the Mardi Gras. Two great artists from Nice, Alexis Mossa and his son Gustav-Adolf Mossa were in turn or together “magiers du Roy”. They are the true spiritual fathers of His Majesty’s Carnival and Court. Alexis Mossa created the first carnival albums which will serve as a model for the New Orleans carnival. He made the first float for His Majesty’s Carnival in 1882 and added Madame Carnaval to it in 1893. Gustav-Adolf Mossa’s symbolist influence is evident and inspires him with characters from Greco-Latin and popular cultures who depict, according to his fantasy, local or international events. Playwright and scenographer of a universe that is both satirical and marvelous, of great richness and variety, he gives carnival art its letters of nobility and makes Nice a major city in the world of festivities.
On 14 February 1882, the traditional straw and rag puppet that stood motionless on the Place de la Préfecture was transformed into a royal puppet parading like its counterparts. In 1892, for the first time in Nice, under the name of “confetti de Paris”, the modern paper confetti that had been launched the previous year at the Paris carnival. Until 1892, only the plaster confetti, also known as “Italian confetti”, had been used at the Nice carnival. Used in parallel with paper confetti, it was finally banned in Nice in 1955.
During Lent in Paris on March 14, 1912, a procession of groups and floats from the Nice Carnival marched through the capital at the same time as two other carnival processions 2. Le Petit Journal wanted to mark its half-century of existence by inviting the Nice Carnival to Paris. Five Nice floats are there: S. M. Carnaval XXXX, la Rascasse, le Carnaval, les Gardiens du Louvre and la Vie chère. The float of the Guardians of the Louvre refers to the famous flight of the Mona Lisa, which took place the year before. The chariot is pulled by a cardboard donkey wearing the famous tiara of Saïtapharnès, a fake bought as authentic by the Louvre in 1885.
Carnival has not escaped the events of history. The First and Second World Wars obviously played disruptive games with the festivities by preventing the king from going out. In 1914 and 1939, the carnivals with the themes “Perseus on Pegasus” and “King of Joy and Laughter” went on normally, while in 1915 and 1940 the carnival was cancelled. The theme then seemed curiously ironic, being “King of Fools” and “Sire of Madness” respectively. This premonition came true again in 1991 when it was announced that there would be a king who never came out, another “King of Fools”, because of the risk of attacks due to the Gulf War.
For half a century, traditional events have accompanied the carnival. During this period the carnival bath was created, which became the “Carnastring” and later on, other activities such as the “Carnacourse” (a race for waiters) and the “Carnasocca” (tasting of the traditional dish of Nice, the socca). A committee has been meeting for about thirty years, under the chairmanship of a personality, to elect the queen of the carnival and its dolphins. The queen who will open each flower battle on her float will then be in charge of representing this festival on official trips.
Famous illustrators made the posters for the Nice carnival, including Adolphe Léon Willette, Emmanuel Costa, Gustav-Adolf Mossa, Raymond Moretti and Cyril de La Patellière.
In 1985, the theme of the Nice carnival was “The King of Advertising”. Jean Oltra and Gaspare Di Caro, organized during this carnival, the first festival of the Commedia dell’Arte. Gaspare Di Caro in 1986 for the carnival “King of the cities of the world” organized the first rapprochement between the carnival of Nice and those of Venice and Viarregio.
In 1994, the theme of the Nice carnival was “The King of the Arts” and for the first time the artists of the “Nice School” took part: Arman, Ben, Jean-Claude Farhi, Claude Gilli, Patrick Moya, Théo Tobiasse, etc. In 2000, a turning point came when Serguei, a cartoonist for the newspaper Le Monde, was called in to draw the Corsi tanks and flower battles. The same year, the National Education and the OCCE worked with the Nice Tourist and Convention Bureau on an educational activity on the theme of carnival. Thus, one thousand schoolchildren (two thousand in the year 2000) followed the king in dance and song. In 2002, the year of the changeover to the euro, the “King of Euroland” followed. An appeal was made to the cartoonists of the biggest international newspapers to become magiers for the time of a carnival. In this way, the carnival remains a forum for expressing the current ills of our society.
From 2005 to 2008, all the events took place on the Promenade des Anglais because of the works and the passage of the tramway. This change of millennium also led to an improvement of the floats which now includes new technologies and materials as well as the collaboration of sculptors. In 2007, the new features included free rides, the creation of a fun entertainment area in the Albert-Ier garden (tightrope walkers, make-up artists and kites), as well as the presence of 160 carnivalists who play the role of troublemakers for the festivities. In 2009, the carnival returned to Place Masséna5. A giant screen and the traditional stands were installed for the occasion on the square 5.
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We also invite you to the Official website of the Carnaval of Nice