Freemasonry in Nice : A French story


Nice, the pearl of the Côte d'Azur, is famous for its Mediterranean beauty and is a favourite destination for tourists. But it is often forgotten that Nice was not always French. And the history of Freemasonry in Nice is intimately linked to the city's membership of France.

The origins of Freemasonry in Nice

Timid beginnings

In the 18th century, the County of Nice belonged to the Kingdom of Sardinia, which had been assigned to the House of Savoy in 1720. The Enlightenment had barely penetrated the region and Freemasonry seems to have been almost non-existent. The Freemasons living in Nice at the time were mainly foreigners (French, Italians, Swiss and British), and the few Freemasons from Nice (such as the future Marshal Masséna) had been received in France or Italy.

Only two lodges were active in Nice before the French invasion in 1793. Both were military lodges. In the 1740s, the first one, made up mainly of officers from a Swiss regiment in the army of the Prince of Conti, stayed in Nice several times. It is likely that this lodge met in Nice and perhaps received civilians from Nice. But we have no proof of this.

The second lodge stayed in Nice in 1792. It was a lodge formed with a warrant from the Grand Orient of Geneva within a Swiss regiment in the service of Sardinia. It included a number of officers from Nice, but again it is impossible to know whether it received local civilians.

The first French establishment

Freemasonry only really came to Nice after the County was annexed to the French Republic in 1793. During the Empire, a particularly prosperous period for Freemasonry, Nice only counted three lodges, all belonging to the Grand Orient of France.

These early lodges were committed to the ideals of the Republic and then the French Empire, and certainly played a role in the integration of Nice into France. However, the majority of the members of these lodges were French soldiers and customs officers, and only about a third were native Nice residents, generally from the wealthy and educated classes. Apart from some of Nice's elite, the population as a whole, which was very Catholic and conservative, and often hostile to the French occupation, remained largely unaffected by the presence of these three Masonic lodges.

This first page in the Masonic history of Nice was to be short-lived. In 1814, the Kingdom of Sardinia took over the County of Nice and banned Freemasonry there.

A new beginning

Freemasonry was to return to Nice when the county was ceded to France in 1859, under the reign of Napoleon III. Although there were still only three lodges of the Grand Orient of France under the Second Empire, the number increased under the Third Republic, notably with the creation of lodges of the Grand Lodge of France, a Masonic obedience founded in 1894. Until the Second World War, the lodges in Nice, whether belonging to the Grand Orient of France or the Grand Lodge of France, tended to have a republican and secular tradition.

It wasn't until 1960 that the more conservative and spiritualist French National Grand Lodge, which already had a strong presence in the Côte d'Azur region, moved in and took a leading role.

Today, many French Masonic obediences are represented in Nice, offering a picture of French Freemasonry in all its diversity. For example, there are lodges belonging to the Feminine Grand Lodge of France, the Traditional and Symbolic  Grand Lodge Opera, the Mixed Universal Grand Lodge, the Co-masonry Le Droit Humain, the Grand Lodge of Cultures and Civilisations, etc.

All these lodges played an important role in Nice's cultural and intellectual landscape. They encouraged discussion on a wide range of subjects, from philosophy to politics, while promoting the ideals of fraternity and equality.

Some of Nice's famous Freemasons

Famous freemasons from Nice include André Masséna, who was born in Nice in 1758, died in Paris in 1817 and was appointed Marshal of the Empire in 1804. He was a key figure in the First Empire.

More unexpectedly, Giuseppe Garibaldi (1897-1882), one of the main architects of Italian unification, was also a native of Nice. He was an illustrious Freemason and in 1881 became the Grand Hierophant of the various branches of the united Memphis Rite.

A number of Freemasons were also prominent in local politics, including Nice city mayors Jules Gilly (1828-1898), Alfred Borriglione (1841-1902) and Honoré Sauvan (1860-1922).

Impact of Freemasonry on the Society of Nice

Social and Cultural Role

The Masonic lodges of Nice have played a significant role in the social and cultural development of the city. They have initiated charitable and cultural projects, promoting education and charity, and have actively participated in the enhancement of the community.

Humanitarian and educational commitments

Following the ideals of Freemasonry, these lodges have set up initiatives to support the needy and promote education, demonstrating their commitment to the well-being of Nice society.

Masonic architectural and cultural heritage in Nice

 Significant monument

A statue of Garibaldi, the illustrious son of Nice and a great Freemason, stands in the square that bears his name. The City Council decided to erect this monument in the year of Garibaldi's death (1882), when Alfred Borriglione, a Freemason, was Mayor of Nice.

Masonic Temples

Nice has several Masonic Temples, but one deserves a special mention. It's the former cinema Le Central, on rue Bonaparte. With its neoclassical façade typical of Belle-Epoque architecture, it was built in 1922 and operated until 1973, before becoming a conference room and then a Masonic Temple.


Freemasonry in Nice, with its rich history and traditions, continues to influence the city's cultural and social life. Its heritage, marked by the diversity of its obediences, bears witness to the importance of Nice in the history of Freemasonry in France and Europe.


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