The Pont du Gard, the Eiffel Tower, the Notre-Dame Cathedral, the Château de Chennonceau, the Arc de Triomphe, the Centre Pompidou, the Sacré-Cœur Basilica. I could go on and on. Throughout history France has been known and celebrated for its fantastic architecture. Visitors come from all over the world to gaze upon the Gallo-Roman style of the amphitheatre at Nîmes, the Romanesque style of the Abbey at Saint-Étinne in Caen, the medieval style of the cathedral at Chartres or the Baroque style of the Palace of Versailles. Over the centuries France has produced some of the most well-known and iconic examples of just about every style of western architecture that has appeared. That said, you won’t find many examples of Greek architecture here. That’s one of the things that makes Villa Kérylos so interesting. Located on the rocky tip of the Baie des Fourmis in Beaulieu-sur-Mer (just a few kilometers east of Nice), Villa Kérylos is an original reconstruction of an ancient Greek dwelling built in the early 1900s. Carole and I went for a visit not too long ago and were quite impressed.
[more info after the photo gallery]
The name “Kérylos” means “kingfisher,” a poetic bird from Greek mythology, considered to be a bird of good omen. Built by the French archaeologist Theodore Reinach and his wife Franny Kann, construction on the Villa Kérylos began in 1902 and took six years complete. Reinach was fascinated with not just Greek architecture, but also with the interior design and fine art from the era. He wanted to recreate the entire atmosphere of a luxurious Greek villa in the south of France and to also combine it with the modern comfort of the Belle Epoque villas. Hence the building incorporated all the latest modern early 20th century features including plumbing and underfloor heating. Looking for a location that he felt was similar to that of an authentic coastal Greek temple Reinach purchased a piece of land that was surrounded on three sides by the ocean. He chose the French architect Emmanuel Pontremoli, who had traveled extensively in Asia Minor, to design and build the structure. It is a faithful reconstruction of the Greek noble houses built on the island of Delos in the 2nd century B.C., complete with an open peristyle courtyard.
Gustave Louis Jaulmes and Adriend Karbowsky oversaw the interior decoration and the sculptor Paul Jean-Bapiste Gascq created stucco bas-reliefs throughout the villa. Reinach commissioned the cabinetmaker Bettenfeld to create exact copies of ancient Grecian chairs, tabourets (small stools) and klismos (a unique Greek chair with a curved backrest and tapering, outcurved legs) from examples found in the National Archaelogoical Museum in Naples.
As with many of the villas from this time period on the Côte d’Azur, Villa Kérylos was a vacation home. Reinach and his family did not live here year round, only spending their holidays in the luxurious villa. Reinach died in 1928, bequeathing the property to the Institut de France, a French learned society which today manages hundreds of foundations, museums and castles. His children and grandchildren continued to live in the villa until 1967 when it was turned into a museum open to the public. In 1966 it was officially listed as an historic monument in France. In March 2019 French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte had dinner with Chinese President Ox Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan at Villa Kérylos.
About the Building
The building is surrounded by small, but very tasteful gardens with a number of statues, Mediterranean plants and fruit trees. It is organized around a peristyle with a large inner courtyard surrounded by 12 columns in Carrar marble. The state rooms are located on the ground floor while the bedrooms and bathrooms are located upstairs.
Upon entering the villa you find a beautiful mosaic of chickens on the floor: a rooster, a hen and their chicks, Greek symbols for the family. The word “XAIPE,” meaning “rejoice” is displayed under the mosaic. The peristyle forms a magnificent square courtyard which is surrounded by six beautiful frescoes on the walls illustrating episodes of Greek mythology. There’s a hallway with a white marble basin that leads to a spectacular library with tall cabinets of oak and fruit wood, pegged and inlaid with ivory, boxwood and ebony containing art and archaeology books as well as a large collection of “objets d’art.” Completing the ground floor is the dining room (octagonal in shape and decorated with four statues), a small lounge dedicated to Dionysus and decorated with lemon wood furniture and the “Andron,” a room whose walls are covered in Italian marble and which was reserved only for men.
A white marble staircase leads upstairs to several bedrooms and bathrooms. The rooms are decorated with murals and embroidred hangings, chandeliers, coffered ceilings and beautiful windows. Furnishings include beds copied from original Greek beds, tables with silver ornaments, fruit wood chests and large chairs.
Visiting the Villa
Carole and I spent several hours one afternoon in December exploring the villa. Parking was very easy to find nearby, though it may be more difficult to come by during the “high” season. We wandered through the gardens and enjoyed the spectacular views of the sea and mountains all around us. Just across the bay is Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferra where Reinach’s wife’s cousin, Maurice Ephrussi, and his wife built the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, another dazzling villa from the same time period. Exploring the house itself was fascinating and each room brought new treasures and delights. The frescos, the mosaics, the furniture, really all of the furnishings, are just amazing. It’s a great way to spend some time if you are anywhere in the Nice area. What makes it special to me is that there is really nothing like it anywhere else in all of France.
The house is open in May and August from 10AM to 7PM. The rest of the year it is open from 10AM to 5PM. The last admission is 30 minutes before closing. The price for adults is 11.50€. Children under 18 are free. There are reduced prices for groups and schools. Guided tours in French are offered. Guide brochures are available in French, English and Italian. Free audioguides are also available in French, English, Italian, Spanish and German. There is a very nice bookstore and gift shop. I’ve enclosed a link to download a small brochure in English if you want to read about the Villa before visiting.