Don’t miss the surrounding suburb of Cimiez either - a popular haunt of British aristocrats in the 19th century, it’s full of impressive Belle Époque architecture.
Just next to the Matisse Museum - a wonderful 17th century Genoese villa, free to enter and well worth a visit itself - Parc des Arènes de Cimiez is a pleasant park filled with old olive trees, and much older Roman ruins. The park is entered through the amphitheatre, and is a hidden oasis from the town.
You will find elderly boules players in the shade, and a little café that is great value and popular with locals. The park is a wonderful picnic spot, and a perfect day out when combined with a visit to the museum. Also found in Cimiez is the Franciscan Monastery and Church of Nice, Monastère Notre Dame de Cimiez, established in the 9th century and adjoining some beautiful gardens.
Between the 1st and 4th centuries Cimiez was the site of Cemenelum, a Roman city roughly the size of Pompeii, and the capital of the Riviera. Its name comes from the treetops’ closeness to the sky. Most of its remains are beneath the ground, but today parts of the old amphitheatre and a large bathing complex can still be seen.
The amphitheatre on the site was first constructed in the 2nd century AD, and though a respectable size it was fairly modest compared to other Roman amphitheatres, with a capacity of only 5,000 spectators. Anchor points for its velarium (an awning that used to shade the arena) are still visible. The Archaeological Museum of Nice-Cimiez displays the artifacts and objects found here; excavations are still underway. Until 2011, the amphitheatre also played host to the Nice Jazz Festival.
Adjoining are the impressive baths, whose frigidarium (long misidentified as a Temple of Apollo) has stood undisturbed since Roman times. Areas of the extensive thermal complex were uncovered in the mid-20th century.
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