Inspire: Art & CultureKeith Van SickleProvencal History & Traditions

Nice’s Cathedral the Most Russian Spot in France

There are so many fun things to do in Nice—you can walk along the Promenade des Anglais, enjoy the view from one of those famous blue chairs, and dig into a salade niçoise at a café in the Old Town. Now here’s one to add to your list: visit the most Russian spot in France, the Saint Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral.

This magnificent structure was built in 1912 in memory of Nicholas Alexandrovich, the one-time heir to the Russian throne who died in Nice of meningitis. It was designed in the classic Old Russian style, with five beautiful onion domes. Seeing the cathedral you think you’ve somehow stumbled into Moscow. Today the cathedral is a National Monument of France and one of the most visited sites of the French Riviera.

Russian Church Nice

@ COTE D’AZUR FRANCE/Pierre BEHAR

The French Connection

Russians have long admired France. Peter the Great visited Versailles and for many years French was the language of the Russian court. Beginning in the mid-1800s, the Riviera became a favourite destination of the Russian nobility, and in the early 20th century Tsar Alexander II funded the construction of the cathedral to meet the needs of a growing Russian community. It became the first Russian Orthodox cathedral (as opposed to just a church) outside of Russia and is today the largest Orthodox cathedral in western Europe.

When the Communists took power in Russia in 1917 and began persecuting religion, control of the cathedral shifted to a new diocese in Paris that was not associated with Moscow. This changed in 2013, after a long legal battle when ownership was returned to the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian government.

Nice's Cathedral Russian France cathedral postcard from the cathedral

Return to Glory

The Church began the restoration of the cathedral, which had fallen into disrepair, and after two years it was returned to its former glory. Today you can admire its rich decorations, with many paintings, frescos, panels of icons and other intricate details. It continues to serve the Russian community of the region, numbering about 50,000 and is open to tourists as well.

Here’s a short video (in French) that will give you an idea of what the cathedral looks like, both inside and outside.

Practical Information

Visiting hours: Weekdays 10-6, Saturday 10-5, Sunday 12-5
Limited access during the celebration of Sacraments, daily 12-2

Saint Nicolas Catherdral (website)


Image Credits:

Cathedral: Saint Nicholas Cathedral website
Aerial Shot: @ COTE D’AZUR FRANCE/Pierre BEHAR
Postcard: Saint Nicholas Cathedral website

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Keith Van Sickle

Keith Van Sickle

Keith is a lifelong traveler who got his first taste of overseas life during a semester abroad in England. But it was the expat assignment to Switzerland that made him really fall in love with Europe.

After returning to California, he and his wife Val dreamed of living abroad again but couldn’t find another expat gig, so they invented their own. Now they split their time between California and St-Rémy-de-Provence, delving ever deeper into what makes France so endlessly fascinating.

Keith is the author of One Sip at a Time: Learning to Live in Provence, and Are We French Yet?, both available from Amazon.

You can see all of Keith’s blog posts at Life in Provence.

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