Italian irredentism in Nice

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Coat of arms of the Nizzardo (County of Nice)

Italian irredentism in Nice was the political movement supporting the annexation of the County of Nice to the Kingdom of Italy. The term was coined by Italian Irredentists.

According to some Italian nationalists and fascists like Ermanno Amicucci, Italian- and Ligurian-speaking populations of the County of Nice (Italian: Nizza) formed the majority of the county's population until the mid-19th century.[1] However, French nationalists and linguists argue that both Occitan and Ligurian languages were spoken in the County of Nice.

During the Italian unification, in 1860, the House of Savoy allowed the Second French Empire to annex Nice from the Kingdom of Sardinia in exchange for French support of its quest to unify Italy. Consequently, the Niçois were excluded from the Italian unification movement and the region has since become primarily French-speaking.


The region around Nicaea, as Nice was known in Latin, was inhabited by the Ligures until its occupation by the Roman Empire, the Ligures were conquered by Augustus and, according to Theodor Mommsen, fully Romanised by the 4th century, when the invasions of the Migration Period began.

The Franks conquered the region after the fall of Rome, and the local Romance language speaking populations became integrated within the County of Provence, with a period of independence as a maritime republic (1108–1176); in 1388, the commune of Nice sought the protection of the Duchy of Savoy, and Nice continued to be controlled, directly or indirectly, by the Savoy monarchs right up until 1860.

During this time, the maritime strength of Nice rapidly increased until it was able to cope with the Barbary pirates. Fortifications were largely extended by the House of Savoy and the roads of the city and surrounding region improved. Emmanuel Philibert, Duke of Savoy, abolished the use of Latin and established Italian as the official language of Nice in 1561.[2]

Conquered in 1792 by the armies of the French First Republic, the County of Nice was part of France until 1814; but after that year it was placed under the protection of the Kingdom of Sardinia by the Congress of Vienna.

By a treaty concluded in 1860 between the Sardinian king and Napoleon III, the County of Nice was again ceded to France, along with Savoy, as a territorial reward for French assistance in the Second Italian War of Independence against Austria, which saw Lombardy unified with Piedmont-Sardinia.

Giuseppe Garibaldi, born in Nice, strongly opposed the cession to France, arguing that the plebiscite that ratified the treaty was not "universal" and contained irregularities. He was elected at the "French National Assembly" for Nice with 70% of the votes in 1871, and quickly promoted the withdrawal of France from Nice, but the elections were invalidated by the French authorities.[3]

In 1871/72 there were popular riots in the city (called by Garibaldi Vespri Nizzardi[4] or Nizzard Vespers), promoted by the "Garibaldini" in favour of unification with the Kingdom of Italy.[5] Fifteen Nizzardi Italians were processed and condemned for these riots, supported by the 'Nizzardo Republican Party'[6]

Nice in 1624, when it was called Nizza

More than 11,000 Nizzardi Italians refused to be French and moved to Italy (mainly Turin and Genoa) after 1861,[7] the French government closed the Italian language newspapers Diritto di Nizza and Voce di Nizza in 1861, and Il Pensiero di Nizza in 1895. In these newspapers wrote the most famous writers in Italian language of Nice: Giuseppe Bres, Henri Sappia, Giuseppe André.

One of the most renowned Nizzardo Italians was Luciano Mereu, a follower of Garibaldi, on November 1870 he was temporarily exiled from Nice together with the "Garibaldini" Adriano Gilli, Carlo Perino and Alberto Cougnet.[8] Later, Luciano Mereu was elected in 1871 as counselor of Nizza under Mayor Augusto Raynaud (1871–1876) and was member of the Commissione garibaldina di Nizza with Donato Rasteu, its President until 1885.

Benito Mussolini considered the annexation of Nice to be one of his main targets. In 1942, during World War II, after Operation Torch (the landing of the Allies in North Africa), the former County of Nice was occupied and administered by Italy from November 11, 1942 until September 8, 1943.

The Italian occupation government was far less severe than that of Vichy France. Therefore, thousands of Jews took refuge there, for a while the city became an important centre for various Jewish organizations. However, when the Italians signed the Armistice of Cassibile with the Allies, German troops invaded the region on September 8, 1943 and initiated brutal raids. Alois Brunner, the SS official for Jewish affairs, was placed at the head of units formed to search out Jews. Within five months, 5,000 Jews were caught and deported.[9]

The area was returned to France following the war and in 1947, the areas of La Brigue and Tende, which had remained Italian after 1860 were ceded to France. Thereafter, a quarter of the Nizzardi Italians living in that mountainous area moved to Piedmont and Liguria in Italy (mainly from the Roya Valley and Tenda).[10]

Today, after a sustained process of Francization conducted since 1861, the former county is predominantly French-speaking. Only along the coast around Menton and in the mountains around Tende there are still some native speakers of the original Intemelio dialect of Ligurian.[11]

Currently the area is part of the Alpes-Maritimes department of France.


In Nice the language of Church, Municipality, Law, School, Theatre was always the Italian language....From 460 AD to the mid-19th century the County of Nice counted 269 writers, not including the still living. Of these 269 writers, 90 used Italian, 69 Latin, 45 Italian and Latin, 7 Italian and French, 6 Italian with Latin and French, 2 Italian with Nizzardo dialect and French, 2 Italian and Provençal.[12]

The Kingdom of Sardinia in 1839, with the Nizzardo in green at the bottom
A map of the County of Nice (Nizza in Italian) showing the area of the Kingdom of Sardinia annexed in 1860 to France (plain light brown) with the actual borders of the department of Alpes-Maritimes (light brown line)

Before the year 1000 the area of Nice was part of the Ligurian League, under the Republic of Genoa; the population spoke a dialect different from the one of western Liguria, whereas in the eastern part the language, which today is called Intemelio[13] was spoken. The medieval writer and poet Dante Alighieri wrote in his Divine Comedy that the Var near Nice was the western limit of the Italian Liguria.

Around the 12th century, Nice came under the control of the French Capetian House of Anjou, they favoured the immigration of peasants from Provence, who brought with them their Occitan language.[14] From 1388 to 1860, the County of Nice was under Savoyard rule and remained connected to the Italian dialects and peninsula; in the fantastic linguistics and historical inventions of the Italian fascists, in this era, the people of the mountainous areas of the upper Var Valley started to lose their former Ligurian linguistic characteristics and began to adopt Provençal influences. They believe that in those centuries the local Niçard dialect became distinct from the Monégasque of the Principality of Monaco.

Traditionally, Italian linguists maintained that Niçard originated as a Ligurian dialect,[15] on the other hand, French linguists argue that Niçard is a dialect of Occitan[16] while conceding that Monégasque is a dialect of Ligurian. However, Sue Wright notes that before the Kingdom of Sardinia ceded the County of Nice to France, "Nice was not French-speaking before the annexation but underwent a shift to French in a short time... and it is surprising that the local Italian dialect, the Nissart, disappeared quickly from the private domain."[17] She also wrote that one of the main reasons of the disappearance of the Italian language in the County was because "(m)any of the administrative class under Piedmont-Savoy ruler, the soldiers; jurists; civil servants and professionals, who used Italian in their working lives, moved [back] to Piedmont, after the annexation and their places and roles were taken by newcomers from France".

Indeed, immediately after 1861, the French government closed all the Italian language newspapers and more than 11,000 Nizzardi Italians moved to the Kingdom of Italy, the dimension of this exodus can be deducted by the fact that in the Savoy census of 1858, Nice had only 44,000 inhabitants. In 1881, The New York Times wrote, "Before the French annexation, the Niçois were quite as much Italian as the Genoese and their dialect was if anything, nearer the Tuscan, than is the harsh dialect of Genoa.[18]

Giuseppe Garibaldi defined his "Nizzardo" as an Italian dialect, albeit with strong similarities to Occitan and with some French influences, and for this reason promoted the union of Nice to the Kingdom of Italy.

Today some scholars, like the German Werner Forner, the French Jean-Philippe Dalbera and the Italian Giulia Petracco Sicardi, agree that the Niçard has some characteristics - phonetic, lexical and morphological - that are typical of western Ligurian, the French scholar Bernard Cerquiglini pinpoints in his Les langues de France the actual existence of a Ligurian minority in Tende, Roquebrune-Cap-Martin and Menton.

Another reduction in the number of the Nizzardi Italians happened after World War II, when defeated Italy was forced to surrender to France the small mountainous area of the County of Nice, that had been retained in 1860, from the Val di Roia, Tenda and Briga one quarter of the local population moved to Italy in 1947.

In the century of nationalism between 1850 and 1950, the Nizzardi Italians were reduced from the 70% majority [19] of the 125,000, living in the County of Nice at the time of the French annexation, to an actual minority of nearly two thousand (in the area of Tende and Menton) today.

Nowadays, the populations of Nice and its surroundings are fluent in French, but a few of them still speak the original Niçard language of Nissa La Bella.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Amicucci, Ermanno. Nizza e l’Italia. p 64
  2. ^ Jörg Mettler, Hans & Éthier, Benoit Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur (1998) p. 24
  3. ^ The Times on the 1871 riots in Nice
  4. ^ Andrè, Giuseppe (1875). Nizza, negli ultimi quattro anni. A. Gilletta. p. 334. 
  5. ^ Stuart, J. Woolf. Il risorgimento italiano p.44
  6. ^ André, G. Nizza, negli ultimi quattro anni (1875) p. 334-335
  7. ^ Italian exiled from Nizza:"Quelli che non vollero diventare francesi" (in Italian) Archived 2012-01-01 at the Wayback Machine.
  8. ^ Letter of Alberto Cougnet to Giuseppe Garibaldi, Genova, 7 dicembre 1867,"Archivio Garibaldi", Milano, C 2582)
  9. ^ Paldiel, Mordecai (2000). Saving the Jews: Amazing Stories of Men and Women who Defied the "final Solution". Schreiber. p. 281. ISBN 978-1-887563-55-0. 
  10. ^ Intemelion
  11. ^ Intemelion 2007
  12. ^ Francesco Barberis: "Nizza Italiana" p.51
  13. ^ Werner Forner.À propos du ligurien intémélien - La côte, l'arrière-pays, Travaux du Cercle linguistique de Nice, 7-8, 1986, pp. 29-62.
  14. ^ Gray, Ezio. Le terre nostre ritornano... Malta, Corsica, Nizza. Chapter 2
  15. ^ Zuccagni-Orlandini, Attilio. Raccolta di dialetti italiani con illustrazioni etnologiche 1864
  16. ^ Bec, Pierre. La Langue Occitane. pag 58
  17. ^ Gubbins, Paul; Holt, Mike (2002). Beyond Boundaries: Language and Identity in Contemporary Europe. Multilingual Matters. p. 91. ISBN 978-1-85359-555-4. 
  18. ^ New York Times, 1881
  19. ^ Amicucci, Ermanno. Nizza e l’Italia. pag 126


  • André, Giuseppe. Nizza, negli ultimi quattro anni. Editore Gilletta. Nizza, 1875
  • Amicucci, Ermanno. Nizza e l’Italia. Ed. Mondadori. Milano, 1939.
  • Barelli Hervé, Rocca Roger. Histoire de l'identité niçoise. Serre. Nice, 1995. ISBN 2-86410-223-4
  • Barberis, Francesco. Nizza italiana: raccolta di varie poesie italiane e nizzarde, corredate di note. Editore Tip. Sborgi e Guarnieri (Nizza, 1871). University of California, 2007
  • Bec, Pierre. La Langue Occitane. Presses Universitaires de France. Paris, 1963
  • Gray, Ezio. Le terre nostre ritornano... Malta, Corsica, Nizza. De Agostini Editoriale. Novara, 1943
  • Holt, Edgar. The Making of Italy 1815–1870, Atheneum. New York, 1971
  • Ralph Schor, Henri Courrière (dir.), Le comté de Nice, la France et l'Italie. Regards sur le rattachement de 1860. Actes du colloque organisé à l'université de Nice Sophia-Antipolis, 23 avril 2010, Nice, éditions Serre, 2011, 175 p.
  • Stuart, J. Woolf. Il risorgimento italiano. Einaudi. Torino, 1981
  • Université de Nice-Sophia Antipolis, Centre Histoire du droit. Les Alpes Maritimes et la frontière 1860 à nos jours. Actes du colloque de Nice (1990). Ed. Serre. Nice,1992
  • Werner Forner. L’intemelia linguistica, ([1] Intemelion I). Genoa, 1995.

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