Every year from mid February to early March the largest pre-lent carnival in France takes place in Nice. Originally a pagan festival celebrating the death of winter and the birth of spring and life, the word ‘carnival’ comes from the Latin carnem levare which means ‘to put away the flesh (as food)’ and occurs before the period of Lent, during Shrovetide (Mardi Gras or ‘Fat Tuesday’). This is the last party before a period of abstinence, which therefore justifies all excesses!
Each year the participants devote thousands of hours to creating the floats and costumes exhibited during the various parades, each inspired by a theme announced during the prior spring. This international event encompasses three weeks of music, comedy, and parades; not to mention confetti street battles, masked balls, and fireworks. The end of the carnival is signified by a tradition going back over 100 years: the burning in effigy of the King of the Carnival.
By the late 1800s, during the Belle Époque era, the Nice Carnival was the most famous in the world, and served as the model for the renowned carnivals in New Orleans, Quebec and Viareggio. What started out as a simple celebration by the working classes was eventually adopted by the nobility and bourgeoisie during the 18th century. Elaborate masquerade balls were held, as well as gala parades with the aristocracy aboard carriages or marching in splendid costumes.
During some of the parades the throwing of various projectiles was established and became a pivotal part of the festival – flowers, candy, and cigars for the elite; beans, flour, eggs and chickpeas for the everyday folk. These ‘projectiles’ were replaced by the more ‘health and safety’ option of paper confetti in 1892. Several royals (the Prince of Wales, the Emperor of Brazil, King Charles of France, Charles Felix the King of Sardinia) participated in the Bataille de Fleurs or ‘Battle of the Flowers’. Today, this ‘battle’ includes some thirty floats in full bloom with beautiful models sumptuously dressed in costumes of feathers, sequins and beads tossing flowers into the crowd. The decoration of the costumes and floats is all done by hand, using thousands of flower petals (carnations, roses, gladioli, gerberas, mimosas, dahlias, lilies, etc.) each glued or stitched on during the night before and into the early hours preceding each battle.
French property expert, Aideen O’Brien (Managing Director of leading Cote d’Azur real estate agency Chez Riviera) notes, “the Nice Carnival has become a major draw card for tourists from all over the world. The city of Nice is extremely proactive in promoting its city to ensure there are events to attract people, not just in summer, but throughout the entire year. This is great news if you have, or intendto purchase an apartment to rent out to the lucrative holiday rental market, as your season is not limited from just May to September as in some locations, but extends to the entire year – increasing your yield significantly”.
Statistics for Nice Carnival 2013 are yet to be released, but in 2012 there were some impressive numbers achieved; like almost 200,000 tickets sold, 20 tons of confetti tossed, and 100,000 flowers thrown during the Battles of the Flowers (of which 85% are produced locally). The theme for the 130th edition of the Nice Carnival in 2014 has been unveiled as the ‘King of Gastronomy’, now that sounds like something delicious to participate in!