Before it turned into the site of a carnage late Thursday night, Nice was the jewel in the French Riviera crown, drawing thousands of tourists every year to its balmy Mediterranean beaches.
A city of some 350,000 people, Nice has attracted Renaissance-era painters and aristocrats alike for centuries because of its sunny weather and stunning seaside scenery. Even today, it received nearly four million people every year.
But despite its flamboyant history, Nice is also a gritty metropolis. It has seen dozens of its Muslim residents travel to Syria to fight, a path taken by previous Islamic State attackers in Europe.
“Neither the place nor the date are coincidental,” a former French intelligence agent and security consultant, Claude Moniquet, told France-Info, noting the jihadist presence in Nice and the fact that July 14 marks France’s revolution.
The city’s original name is Nice la Belle (Nissa La Bella in Niçard), which translates to Nice the Beautiful.
The attacker chose the most emblematic street in Nice, the crescent-shaped Promenade des Anglais that stretches gracefully along the Mediterranean coast, facing the sparkling blue seas of what is known as the Bay of Angels.
The walkway runs from the airport to the oldest part of the coastal city. On the seafront is constructed a long walkway full of tourists while on the laen side, hotels, restaurants and cafes jostle for space.
The Promenade des Anglais – walkway of the English – was built by a British man Reverend Lewis Way in 1820 at his own expense.
It is here that thousands had gathered on a windy night with a slight, sporadic drizzle to celebrate Bastille Day, France’s most popular holiday. The woman and the man were there, with so many others, along the broad seafront promenade, as Nice’s annual fireworks display lit up the night sky.
Pierre Roux, whose apartment faces the sea, said he had first thought that the truck was simply out of control. But then he noticed that the lights were off and there was no honking. “Nobody in the way stood a chance,” he said.