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Between the Riviera and the Cote d’Azur

The emotional geography of a shoreline

In the Middle Ages the name Riviera included the coastline of Liguria: Genoa at the centre and at its sides the West and East coasts. The earliest mention of the term “Riviera” dates back in fact to June 14th 1180, traced in an old notary cartulary of Savona in which the foundation of a trading company in the Riviera is recorded. A few years later, in 1198, in a notary act of Genoa, we discover that the term Riviera has been extended and includes to the west the area up to Montpellier.

From the 17th century onwards, with commerce becoming more frequent and numerous trips intensifying across Europe creating the noble tradition of the Grand Tour, the name Riviera is associated more with an image built on fascination. Riviera then goes on to define not so much a geographical area but a tourist profile. It is the Liguria Riviera, but also the French one, which starts just over the border in Ventimiglia. And the international nature of the definition is demonstrated by the use of the unchanged word Riviera in several European languages.

The tourist and literary imagery unites locations, exploiting almost identical features in the neighbouring areas, both characterized by healthy sea and landscape sweetness. As it happens, however, in 1887, the French political and intellectual Stéphen Liégeard publishes the “Côte d’Azur” guidebook, a detailed notebook which describes a trip from Hyeres to Genoa, and which highlights the history, villages and pleasant typical characteristics of the Mediterranean coast.

Thanks to the success of this book, the term Cote d’Azur in a short time becomes the perfect label for the sea places on the French coast whose symbolic capital is Nice. A second emotional geography after the one that had already built the tourist image of the Riviera and, thanks to the effectiveness of the literary and artistic representations, even today brings to mind the ideas of vacation, leisure and luxury, sea views and attractive flowering gardens.

Choose which places you wish to visit and what to call this land of dreams, whether Riviera or Côte d’Azur. Never mind the name, the important thing is to live it in order to discover it day after day.

Alessandra Chiappori

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