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Finding traces of Ottomans in Europe: Admiral Barbarossa in Nice


NICE : The joy of traveling lies in uncovering hidden gems and experiencing new cultures. Yet, there is a special thrill in stumbling upon something familiar in a foreign land: It’s like finding a piece of home amid the unknown. An impromptu family weekend trip to the stunning city of Nice on the French Riviera surprised me as I stumbled upon the cannonball of renowned Ottoman Admiral Barbarossa Hayreddin Pasha fired during the siege of Nice in the 16th century, an intriguing memento encapsulating the tales of valor, triumphs and tribulations from a bygone era.

We arrived in Nice on a sunny Friday morning. The azure waters of the Mediterranean glistened under the clear sky and the gentle breeze carried the salty scent of the sea. On our first day, we took a leisurely stroll along the Promenade des Anglais, taking in iconic architectural landmarks such as the Hotel Negresco. Lined with palm trees and elegant hotels, the Promenade des Anglais stretches invitingly along the coast, making it an ideal spot for families with children to walk or swim at one of its beaches.

The view of Promenade des Anglais, Nice, France, April 22, 2024. (Photo by Nurbanu Kızıl)
The view of Promenade des Anglais, Nice, France, April 22, 2024. (Photo by Nurbanu Kızıl)

We then headed to the vibrant Vieux Nice, or Old Town. Its narrow, winding streets were filled with colorful buildings, charming cafes and local boutiques, which reminded me of the Old Town of Quebec City across the ocean in Canada. The scent of freshly baked baguettes and the melody of street musicians added to the enchanting atmosphere. We indulged in some local delicacies like socca, a crispy chickpea pancake and pissaladiere, a savory onion tart, at a quaint little bistro.

While doing a quick research about the city and its history, as we strolled through the Old Town, I came across information that a cannonball, fired by Barbarossa Hayreddin Pasha during the siege of Nice in 1543, was embedded in the wall of a building nearby. This unexpected discovery took me by surprise. Here, in the heart of a picturesque French city, was a tangible link to the Ottoman Empire.

Intrigued, I delved into the history of the siege. Ottoman and French sources note that in 1543, the French King Francis I sought the assistance of Sultan Sulaiman the Magnificent against the Holy Roman Emperor Charles, according to history professor Christine Isom-Verhaaren’s book “Allies with the Infidel: The Ottoman and French Alliance in the Sixteenth Century.” Barbarossa Hayreddin Pasha, the glorious Ottoman admiral, led a fleet to assist in the siege of Nice, which was then under the control of the Duchy of Savoy. The combined forces of the French and Ottomans laid siege to the city, and after a fierce battle, they captured the lower town and the port. However, they failed to take the heavily fortified upper town.

The main train station in Nice, France, April 23, 2024. (Photo by Nurbanu Kızıl)
The main train station in Nice, France, April 23, 2024. (Photo by Nurbanu Kızıl)

While concrete evidence of her existence is lacking, local legend holds that Catherine Segurane, a washerwoman, played a role in repelling Franco-Ottoman forces by allegedly mooning from the city walls – a tale so outlandish it seems unlikely to be true, but poems were written about her and she is celebrated annually on Nov. 25.

As I stood before the cannonball, I imagined the chaos and clamor of the siege. The sight of Barbarossa’s fleet approaching the shores, the thunderous roar of cannon fire, and the determined faces of the soldiers. This small remnant of history connected me to a significant event that shaped the region’s past.

Cafes and restaurants in Nice, France, April 23, 2024. (Photo by Nurbanu Kızıl)
Cafes and restaurants in Nice, France, April 23, 2024. (Photo by Nurbanu Kızıl)
Perfect family vacation

While strolling through the lush gardens of the 19th-century Jardin Albert, one of the oldest parks in the city, my son’s eyes lit up with joy as we came across a charming merry-go-round – a frequent sight in many French cities. Like other children, he was euphoric at the sight, and we couldn’t resist letting him have a ride or three.

After enjoying our time and a small picnic at the park, we discovered the touristic “train” ride. This delightful attraction offers a convenient and entertaining way for families to explore the city without children’s usual complaints about walking long distances. The ride provides a perfect blend of fun and sightseeing, making it an ideal choice for families with young children and the elderly. If your kid lets you, you can even listen to the audio guide that offers information about the sites along the route.

Belle Epoque style Palais de l'Agriculture building on Promenade des Anglais, Nice, France, April 22, 2024. (Photo by Nurbanu Kızıl)
Belle Epoque style Palais de l’Agriculture building on Promenade des Anglais, Nice, France, April 22, 2024. (Photo by Nurbanu Kızıl)

Our train stopped at Castle Hill (Colline du Chateau), which offered a 15-minute panoramic view of Nice and its surroundings. The ruins of the old castle, the lush gardens, and the cascading waterfall made it a perfect spot for a family picnic or just soaking up the beautiful views of Nice from above. The hill was the perfect spot to take photos and see the city from above.

While it’s understandable why some people do not prefer them, tourist train rides and hop on hop off buses could be a lifesaver when traveling with kids, as they let you get a glimpse of the city, especially if you are tight on time and your child cannot walk the 20,000 steps that you do as adults. You can hop off when your child gets bored, wander around, have some snacks and, hop back on when the tantrum is over and do it on repeat. Yes, traveling with children is challenging but worth the hassle as you get to make memories that they will – hopefully – fondly remember in the future and will familiarize themselves with different people and cultures and sometimes will surprise you with their views of the unfamiliar.

Most kids love to play with water in the summer months and Nice has plenty of it. None of the splash pads were working as it was quite chilly during our late April visit, but kids and toddlers alike would love the Miroir d’Eau in the Promenade du Paillon Park, which would be a fun activity in the warmer summer months. Many children’s playgrounds across the city offer free entertainment for families, but there are many museums, water-slide parks, Parc Phoenix Botanical Garden and much more.

Day trips from Nice

While the coastal charm of Nice captivates travelers with its azure waters and vibrant old town, the surrounding region offers an array of picturesque destinations perfect for day trips. From historic towns to glamorous beaches, here are some of the best excursions from Nice that promise to enhance any itinerary: Taking a 30-minute train ride will bring you to Monaco, the pinnacle of glamor and luxury. The town of Antibes, known for its ancient walls and the renowned Picasso Museum, is located 22.4 kilometers (14 miles) from Nice. Visitors can wander through the old town’s narrow streets, visit the bustling Marche Provencal, and relax on the sandy beaches. The Cap d’Antibes peninsula offers stunning coastal views and is ideal for a leisurely hike. If you are a history lover, you can head to the medieval town of Eze, a must-visit for its dramatic views and medieval charm. Accessible via a 20-minute bus ride from Nice, Eze boasts narrow cobblestone streets, art galleries, and the exotic Jardin Exotique. The Fragonard Perfumery offers free tours, revealing the secrets of traditional perfume-making. For those who enjoy hiking, the Nietzsche Path provides a scenic route down to the sea. Only a 40-minute train ride from Nice, the famous city of Cannes, renowned for its annual film festival, is also a popular destination for day trips.

Place Rosetti (Rosetti Square) in the Old Town of Nice, France, April 22, 2024. (Photo by Nurbanu Kızıl)
Place Rosetti (Rosetti Square) in the Old Town of Nice, France, April 22, 2024. (Photo by Nurbanu Kızıl)

The French Riviera’s extensive train and bus networks make day trips convenient and affordable. Trains run frequently along the coast, while local buses connect inland destinations.

Whether you seek the glamour of Monaco or the historic allure of Antibes, the areas surrounding Nice offer a wealth of experiences that enrich any visit to the French Riviera.

Architecture of Nice

Whether you take day trips or not, take a moment to appreciate the architectural beauty of Nice itself. The city boasts a rich architectural tapestry, from the Italianate facades of the Old Town to the grand villas and belle epoque buildings along the Promenade des Anglais. The Russian Orthodox Cathedral, with its vibrant domes and intricate details, adds an exotic flair to the cityscape. Nice’s architecture is a testament to its diverse history, influenced by centuries of cultural exchange and its status as a leading Mediterranean destination.

The building where Barbarossa's cannonball is stuck, Nice, France, April 22, 2024. (Photo by Nurbanu Kızıl)
The building where Barbarossa’s cannonball is stuck, Nice, France, April 22, 2024. (Photo by Nurbanu Kızıl)
Things to beware

The city won our hearts with its old town, ice cream shops, vegan and halal-friendly food options, and gorgeous historical sites and architecture. However, there are a few things tourists, especially Muslims, should consider when visiting.

Restaurant times: Restaurants in some European countries close in the afternoon and reopen in the evening for dinner service, so it’s a good idea to plan in advance and check opening hours ahead of time. For instance, a top-rated ice cream shop that we wanted to try was closed in the afternoon, so we opted for whatever was open – after my son’s “brief” tantrum about not getting the ice cream from the shop right then and there.

Public transportation: While convenient, tourists need to validate their tickets at the small booths on the trams. We encountered a tourist who paid for all her tickets but was heavily fined for not validating them upon stepping outside the airport and trying to reach downtown.

Homelessness: The issue of homelessness is prevalent in the city. Homeless individuals, including many with mental and drug problems, are visible on the streets, in train stations and in many other places. The foul odor of urine is bothersome for families in closed spaces, including train stations and elevators.

The carousel at 19th-century Jardin Albert park in Nice, France, April 22, 2024. (Photo by Nurbanu Kızıl)
The carousel at 19th-century Jardin Albert park in Nice, France, April 22, 2024. (Photo by Nurbanu Kızıl)

Islamophobia: For Muslim travelers, Islamophobia is a significant concern in France. Unfortunately, we experienced several instances of insulting and derogatory behavior during our short two-day visit. Additionally, be prepared for many long stares if you wear a Muslim headscarf.

Beach regulations: Travelers visiting the French Riviera in the summer should double-check if the beach they plan to visit allows the burkini, as some French municipalities have restrictions on modest swimwear.

As our weekend in Nice drew to a close – with the countless tantrums of a 5-year-old – we reflected on the myriad experiences that made our trip memorable. From uncovering historical relics and legends to enjoying picturesque landscapes, Nice offered a perfect blend of adventure and relaxation. Despite some challenges, the city’s charm and the warm memories we created made it an unforgettable family getaway. Whether it’s the allure of the Promenade des Anglais, the rich history embedded in its streets, or the simple joy of a child’s laughter on a merry-go-round, Nice promises a unique and enriching travel experience for all.