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A little history of Nice Marble Palace

Detail | Gilnice06 / CC-BY-SA
Town house Marble palace in Nice

On the villa’s peristyle, we read this sentence written by Irish author John Keats, from his poem Endymion (1818): "A thing of beauty is a joy for ever".

It comes right on cue, for our Marble palace, a real arts house, an Italian villa with its loggia and its marble columns... Nowadays, it houses the city's archives.

Honoré Gastaud

Our story began with a rich banker, Honoré Gastaud, who owned the estate in 1840. The plot of land is about 20 hectares, just in front of the sea in Fabron district.

The sir wanted to raise a big villa with a park planted with palm-trees: so the estate was called "Palm-trees villa"!

Parties were beautiful: Gastaud welcomed here Russian tzar Nicolas I's widow, in 1856, but also Napoleon III and Empress Eugenia in 1860! But the wheel was turning: Gastaud lost lot of money, he couldn’t afford the villa maintenance...

Ernest Gambart

A rich art printer

So, he sold the estate to Ernest Gambart in 1870. Gambart? He was a rich Belgian art printer, who used to live in London in the middle of the 19th century.

Oh, he began very modestly, as a broker for an English engravings office. Then he created his own society, the Gambart & Junin Company, in 1842.

They were specialists in works of art reproduction! Gambart loved art, he even made partnership with famous Victorian painters (Turner, Landseer, John Everett Millais... and French Rosa Bonheur).

By the way, he invited this one in Nice, with actress Sarah Bernhardt or Belgian king Leopold II!

The nicest palace

In Nice, where he moved with his wife, he asked architect Sébastien-Marcel Biasini to transform Gastaud’s villa into a real palace.

The building site began in 1874, ended 5 years later: 5 years to design the current villa! A ground floor and a floor with a façade overlooking the sea and a loggia decorated with frescos.

Above this loggia, 4 statues: muses of Painting, Sculpture, Architecture and Engraving. We have a main building with two wings on each side. Niches house statues of Danse, Poetry, Astronomy and Music.

But where did this name of "Marble palace" come from? From the big convoy (27 boats!), full of that precious Carrara marble used to decorate the façade! Gambart didn’t spare his money: inside, apartments and rooms were decorated like in a genuine Louis XVI's castle.

And he had all the place he wanted to put his art collection! He also laid out a greenhouse and a winter garden, next to the villa. In the garden, he planted Mediterranean species.

In 1846, he was a full British citizen, then Spanish consul in Nice. Then Gambart died in his villa in 1902, he was 88 years old...

The end of a story

A rich German baron, Alexandre Von Falzfein, owned the estate in 1905: he laid out an artificial lake in the park. The villa, renamed "Big Cedars villa", then fell to Edouard Soulas, a rich speculator. He asked designer Pinard to refit out the apartments.

He designed wooden stuccos and the main staircase. He also asked landscaper Octave Godard to relay out the park with boxtrees and vases, like in a formal garden.

But what happened, next? Well, German armies occupied the place during World War II.

In 1956, the Soulas family sold the villa to a real estate agent, who raised buildings all around. Without altering our palace, thanks God!

About the the author

I'm fond of strolls and History, with juicy and spicy details!