If you have been to Antibes on the French Riviera or even seen pictures of Antibes, you probably think of huge walls built towards the water, and then a town built behind of the enormous walls that are facing the sea.
And when you think of that, you’re thinking of the old Antibes and the old town of Antibes. Today, there are two parts of Antibes: the new Antibes and the old Antibes, which, in French translates to Viel Antibes.
Vieil Antibes (Old Antibes) is built on an ancient Greek town which was previously named Antipolis. It is located close to Valbonne and Mougins. When the greeks went around the areas located around the Mediterranean, they colonized them and built cities, and thus, several cities and towns on the French Riviera has previously been old Greek towns.
The old town of Antibes has lots to offer and is a popular attraction for tons of tourists as well as mainland French inhabitants, mainly in the summer. Its stunningly beautiful old buildings are pure art to look at, and the calm streets inside the old town of Antibes allow for beautiful meals or coffees in a calm and pleasant atmosphere.
The streets are mainly made of cobblestone, which you can expect in a town that is as old as the old town in Antibes.
The streets have lots of French shops where you can find anything from gourmet food, delicacy, cafés, souvenirs, and much more. From on top of the giant walls that once protected the town from intruders and enemies by sea, you have the most amazing view over the Mediterranean.
Vieil Antibes is a prime example of a traditional Mediterranean village, built on strategic places and in strategic ways to protect itself from enemies.
In the medieval quarter, you can visit markets on market days, where everything from fruit, locally grown vegetables, flowers, perfume, and much more, is sold.
The town is, as you can imagine, full of history, which makes viel Antibes a perfect place for the history lover. And the person who is less interested in history can still enjoy the beautiful scenery, streets, and houses.
History of Viel Antibes: Old town of Antibes
Occupation of Antibes stretches back to the iron age, which can be identified after finding various objects. The Etruscans are also known to have populated Antibes, as a result of the many shipwrecks found in the waters around Antibes. Back in the days, Anties did a lot of trading with the Greek world.
Research has found that Antibes was founded by Phocaeans from Massilia and started as a Greek colony. Antibes also later became Roman, and named Antipolis, as mentioned, which translated to “Cross-City” due to its near position to Nice. It is believed that Antipolis, which is now known as Antibes was founded around the 4th century BC, which is considered to be fairly late compared to other towns and cities on the French Riviera. Due to it being tremendously long ago since the town Antipolis was founded, it is not known with full certainty where the Greek colony was located, however, it is thought that it was located at the foot of the rock of Antibes, which, not surprisingly, is the old town of Antibes today.
Traces from the Hellenistic period have also been found in the old Antibes, and more specifically around the areas of the castle and the church, which is now a former cathedral. The findings prove that Antibes imported lots of goods from the Marseilles region, such as indigenous ceramics.
During the early part of the second century BC, several attacks towards old Antibes took place. These attacks came from Ligurian Deceates and Oxybiens tribes. The town (then named Antipolis) appealed to Rome, as they were the emperors of the town more or less, and the attackers were defeated In 154 BC by Quintus Opimius.
Old Antibes as Roman
As the Roman empire grew, Antibes soon came under Roman possession, partly due to its very strategic location. The Romans slowly but surely increased their power and influence on the town, and In 43 bc, the town was considered Roman, to which it belonged for roughly 500 years to come. Amazingly, Antibes eventually became the largest town in the French Riviera region, and it worked as the main entry point into Gaul. Traces from the Roman period of Antibes can still be found today, such as Roman aqueducts, amphoræ, and fortified walls. Today, the Fontveille Aqueduct still remains, which is a section of an underground vault.
During the time, two aqueducts supplied old Antibes with water. The aqueduct that can still be seen today, but the name of Fontvieille starts in Biot reaches Antibes. The Fontvieille aqueduct was discovered in the 18th century by Chevalier d’Aguillon, and then restored, in order to supply the then modern city of Antibes
Theatre and amphitheater in the old town of Antibes
The Romans were huge fans of theaters and considering they rules Antibes for such a long time, you can expect that they built just that. Today, they can be found in the old town of Antibes, and in an inscription, you can read “he danced and was popular on the stage of the theatre”.
The theatre and amphitheater were located between Rue de la République and Rue de Fersen. Remains could be seen up until the end of the 17th century, and the oval from the theatre was found in ma of Antibes that dates back to the early nineteenth century. Today, however, the remains are covered by the College of Fersen.
Due to Antibes’s rich history, lots of archeological diggings have been made, and lots of things have been found. In diggings, well-preserved houses have been found in the old town of Antibes which shows luxury. The most significant finding has been made in the rectory garden of rue Clemenceau.
These diggings have found houses that had a standard similar to the living standard of Gallo-Roman. For instance, it has been found that the houses had large parts of organizes mosaic floors, and a marble fountain.
The buildings that were found can be dated back to the late third century, but some buildings that were found can be dated back to the Hellenistic time.
Antibes or Antipolis became the seating town of a bishopric in the 5th century. After the Romans and the fall of the Western Roman Empire, barbarian tribes invaded and took over Antibes, which lead to great destruction and instability. But in the 10th century, Seigneur Rodoart became the protector of Antibes, and he built large fortified walls around the whole town as well as around the castle in which he was to live. The following 200 years, the town of Antibes slowly but surely was built up and renewed. However, the success that Antibes saw didn’t last for long, and eventually, the whole region fell, lasting for several centuries.
The inhabitants of Antibes hid behind their giant protecting walls as lots of wars took place during the period after. In 1244, the bishop of Antibes moved to Grasse. The town of Antibes eventually came to come under the protection and control of the French king Louis XI. Stability and safety returned to Antibes, but the port of Antibes did not.
Today, the old town of Antibes can be mapped out as the area that is located within the city walls, the enormous walls that were built facing the sea, as well a the walls around the Chateau Grimaldi – the giant castle which still stands to this date. Today, you can find several of Antibes´s top restaurant in the old quarter of Antibes.
Things to see in the old town of Antibes
Picasso Museum in the old town of Antibes
The Picasso museum in Antibes is a well-known museum that attracts lots of tourists. It is today one of the main attractions of Antibes, located in the beautiful Chateau Grimaldi castle, accompanied by a stunning sea view.
The castle was established in 1608 by the Grimaldis, the same Grimaldi clan that reigns Monaco still to this day. Today, the Picasso museum holds 245 works by Pablo Picasso himself, some of which are given by himself, and some by his wife.
The museum is opened al year around, except on Mondays. It is not open on the 1st of January, 1st of May, 1st of November, and the 25th of December.
Antibes’ Marché Provençal
Antibes old town hosts a market which sells fresh products every single morning, except on Mondays. On the market, you can find all types of fresh food, ranging from locally produced vegetables, fish, meat, cheese, and much more.
The market is priced for locals, but some sellers are known to take advantage of foreigners and tourists and hide the prices until last minute when the buyer can’t back out. When the market is over, and the evening comes, the market area becomes a place to eat and drink.
Antibes Absinthe bar and museum
Yes, In the old town of Antibes, there’s actually an Absinthe bar and museum, located on the most popular pedestrian street of Viel Antibes.
The green spirit was outlawed due to health risks, such as death, loss of ears, and insanity. These effects were due to control issues, and now, it instead of believed that the green herbs in absinthe are actually good for you. The drink absinthe was made legal again in 2003, and the Antibes Absinthe bar and museum is located closely to theMarché Provençal.
Stroll in the old town of Antibes
Due to the small and narrow streets in the old town of Antibes, few cars traffic the area, thus making walking highly pleasant. There are lots of pedestrianized areas, and you can choose the length of your walk, for instance, walk to the new part of Antibes and back, or take a turn past the harbor and up to the castle. Antibes has quite a large harbor, thus making it highly attractive for large boat owners. In the summer, you can see tons of enormous boats during your stroll if you take the route past the harbor.
If you are at the Picasso museum, this place is just a short walk away. The bastion is a shipyard, and it was built in the same place the Calypso set out. During the Roman time, a temple stood on the exact same location, and eventually also a chapel, and a fortified tower. The shipyard was closed in 1985, but today, the place showcases marvelous Nomade sculpture
Chemin des Douaniers
This is a five-kilometer coastal walk that is highly popular with tourists, allowing them to see lots of the beautiful scenery that Antibes has to offer. It stretches to the seafront of Cap d’Antibes, and during the walk, you’ll be able to see wonderful parklands and castles.
Cathédrale Notre Dame de l’Immaculée Conception
Here, you can find a medieval church, which was once a cathedral but is today the largest church of Antibes. It is beautifully situated right in the old town of Antibes, and if you visit, you’ll be hypnotized by the beauty that’s in the small details such as the facades, architecture, and doors.
Place du Safranier
The place du Safranier is a square which was created after the Second World War. It was here that Nikos Kazantzakis wrote the famous Zorba the Greek. Another attraction here is the delightful bistro by the name of La Taverne du Safranier.
La Taverne du Safranier
This is a highly popular bistro in the old town of Antibes which serves amazing food, where their fish is their specialty. It is a popular place both for tourists and locals. It also comes with a beautiful complimentary view of the Place du Safranier,
Museum of Archeology
As you know by now, Antibes is a town with a rich history, and here, a ton of objects have been found from archeological diggings. This museum showcases just that, by presenting Antibes’s 4,000-year-old history and its surrounding area. It has a large collection of findings, including objects from the Greek and Roman settlements.The objects have been found both during diggings in the town, but also in the surrounding waters.If you visit, you’ll be able to watch things like coins, mosaic, ceramic, and other objects that were common during that period of time.