I’m pushing on with my series of posts about Villages Perchés (perched villages) because there are so many I’ve still to cover. Today’s village of Falicon, which was one of my first rides with the cycle club, is another one of those villages grouped together by the Métropole Nice Côte d’Azur tourist department as the Route des Villages Perchés (Route of Perched Villages). The others are: Aspremont, Carros, Castagniers, Saint-Jeannet, Coaraze, Colomars, Duranus, Eze, Levens , La Gaude, Lantosque, La Roquette-sur-Var, Saint-Blaise, Tourrette-Levens and Utelle.
Falicon’s inhabitants are called the Faliconnais and the Faliconnaises. Surrounded by the municipalities of Saint-André-de-la-Roche, Tourrette-Levens and Aspremont, the village of Falicon borders Nice (10 km [6 miles] from Place Masséna), the largest city in the vicinity, and is less than an hour from the Mercantour National Park.
Facing Mont-Chauve, Falicon stands on a 300m (985 ft) high rocky peak. This medieval village has retained all the typical charm of similar perched villages. The surrounding countryside, planted with olive and fig trees, offers scenic views reaching back to the coast.
Falicon is very picturesque with plenty to see. It boasts houses and buildings with trompe l’oeil facades and friezes. Its Baroque parish church of the Nativity of the Virgin, built in 1624, has a square bell tower with an unusual pyramidal roof. Behind the church is the white penitents’ Ste-Croix Chapel which today functions as a meeting hall and exhibition space.
Behind the walls of Falicon’s ramparts which still retain some of its fortified gates, such as the Saint-François gate (1876), the narrow and winding streets are just made for wandering. There are shady vaulted passageways leading to beautiful, sunny cobbled squares. One of which, at the entrance to the village, is known as the Queen’s Tea square because Queen Victoria, when she was staying in nearby Cimiez, used to drink her afternoon tea there in one of its cafes.
There’s no evidence that the village started life like so many around here during Roman times. In 11th century it was a stronghold of the Abbey of St-Pons de Cimiez – one of the oldest monasteries in the area originally constructed between 774 and 800. The village later passed between several co-lords, including those of the Travacca, Tonduti, Reinaldi and Berre families.
In 1746, during the War of the Austrian Succession, the Franco-Spanish army retook Falicon but were later ousted. In 1794, the French authorities inventoried and sold the properties of the ruling families.
This lovely village has charmed a number of writers who’ve included it in their books. In addition, it provided the setting for the film “Fandango” with Luis Mariano in 1948 – no, I’ve never heard of it either as it’s way before my time!
Interestingly the village is best known not for its charms but for its small, strange pyramid, located on a hillside to the northwest of Falicon. Although it’s now showing signs of age (the top has been truncated at about 3 m [9 ft]), the lower part is in good condition. It was discovered in 1804, and was estimated to have originally been around 9 m (29 ft) tall.
The stone pyramid is built over the opening of the Grotto (Aven) of Ratapignata, on the eastern flank of the ridge. The grotto beneath the pyramid is a karstic cave, called Bauma des Ratapignata in Occitan, or “Cave of the Bats”.
This is one of the very rare pyramids to be found in Europe, and no clear explanation has ever been found for its existence. Among the various theories, the grandson of the famous archeologist John Ward-Perkins thinks it might have marked the tomb of an ancient chieftain, possibly an exiled Egyptian! Did the Egyptian’s pre-date the Romans?