Finally, I understood what that massive paper mâché head that sat atop the tourism office on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice was all about. The head, which has a creepy, Chucky- like quality about it, belongs to the Carnival King who presides over the carnival festivities held annually in his French Riviera kingdom of Nice.
I had no idea carnival was celebrated in Nice until a couple of years ago, nor did I have any idea how big a deal it was until one year when I was in Nice for theRock ‘n’ Roll 10 Miles du Carnaval, which was incorporated into the official carnival program.
Along with Brazil, Venice and New Orleans, Nice is home to one of the world’s major carnival events, drawing over 1 million visitors each year to the 3-week extravaganza.
This year I attended, the theme was Roi de la Gastronomie (King of Gastronomy), a subject that is the source of enormous pride and passion for the French.
The carnival king leads a number of lavish parades as hundreds of dancers and musicians from around the world, not to mention colorfully costumed revelers, follow him through the streets of Nice as if he’s the pied piper.
Carnival celebrations have been going on in Nice since the Middle Ages, and in its current incarnation with the large parades and floats and viewing stands, since the late 1800s. The Bataille de Fleurs (Flower Parade) is one of the main events of the carnival and is a tradition that began in 1876 when rich visitors who came to Nice for the winter gave the locals the flowers that decorated their carriages.
Today the Bataille de Fleurs – with its stunning floral floats that travel along the Promenade des Anglais filling the air with a sweet fragrance and accompanied by lovely ladies in captivating costumes who toss mimosas, lilies, and orchids into the crowd – promotes the large variety of flowers found in the Riviera.
When there are no more flowers to toss, the ladies pick them off of the floats and by the parade’s end, the floats lay bare and abandoned, while parade-goers leave with amazing bouquets.
The other main events include the Carnival Parade and the Parade of Lights. The Carnival Parade is the event and features the previously mentioned (creepy) paper mâché heads and 18 large floats designed with the carnival’s theme in mind, while the enormous floats of the Parade
of Lights illuminate the city’s main square, the Place de Massena.
Carnival ends on Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) with the closing festivities that see the Carnival King being incinerated in a bonfire by the ocean.
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