French Riviera: A Cultural History

French Riviera: A Cultural History  by Julian Hale
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Other Titles by Julian Hale

We all have our image of the French Riviera: the azure blue of the sea and the swimming pools; the dark green of the pines and the swaying palms; the yachts and the sports cars on the Corniche roads; the hovering croupiers raking in the chips in the Monte Carlo casino. And all these are true.

But there is another Riviera. Above Monaco towers a ruined reminder of Roman power, the Emperor Augustus’ Trophy of the Alps. Monuments to Napoleon and Maginot Line forts testify to turbulent times, while statues and gravestones recall the years from the belle époque to the 1930s when the British, then the Russians and Americans swept in with their money, and their weak lungs, for relaxation and rest cures.

The Côte d’Azur is now French. But for centuries, until 1860, the land from Nice eastwards to Menton and the Italian border, were part of the Kingdoms of Savoy and Sardinia. Local dialects still remind us of the Ligurian past. Churches and chapels all along the coast and in the inland, hilltop villages and towns contain pictorial and architectural treasures from the Brea family during the Renaissance to Picasso and Matisse in the twentieth century. Grand hotels and villas, gardens both historic and showy (and often both), the film festival at Cannes all place the Riviera at the centre of showbusiness and artistic enterprise.

If the Riviera has had its critics—Somerset Maugham famously used the phrase “a sunny place for shady people”—it remains the epitome of glamour. Julian Hale reveals how a piece of rugged, inaccessible coastline was transformed into a byword for luxury and hedonism—but always with a special beauty of its own.
Publication Date:
02 / 07 / 2012

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