A strange pyramid is located on the hillside north of Nice and northwest of Falicon. The pyramid is fairly small and now showing the signs of age (the top has been truncated at about 3 m), but the lower part is in good condition. It was discovered in 1804, and was calculated to have been 9 m tall. Its uniqueness and mystery make it worth visiting.
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 given for its existence. Among the various theories of its origin, the grandson of the famous archeologist John Ward-Perkins (shown here at the pyramid in 1996) thinks it might have marked the tomb of an ancient chieftain, possibly an exiled Egyptian.
The tale we heard in Falicon some ten years ago (1996) was that the pyramid was built by Roman legionaires, and the 50-meter deep grotto was a temple to the Persian goddess Mithra.
The on-line en.wikipedia.org expands on that, suggesting: "The number of stairs leading into the cave below the pyramid also supposedly corresponds to the 7-level initiation rituals of the cult of Mithras - an eastern religion that was popular with members of the Roman Army during the later Empire."
We met a man on the trail doing a film about the pyramid, who said it had connections with the Templars, also told us it's one of only two pyramids in France; the other being in the Massif Central.
A trio of visitors from California, Willow, Beckey and Bill, had read about the pyramid in connection with the templars, and they thought there were symbols and signs marking the interior. None of us descended down inside to investigate.
A book with information on the pyramid is Sacred Sites of the Knights Templar by John K. Young, Phd.
The pyramid and grotto were discovered (at least for our modern era) in 1803 by one Domenico Rossetti. The Ratapignata Grotto was listed in all the regional tourist guides from the 19th century. In that earlier time, locals rented out ladders to visitors intent on descending into the interior. Now, in October 2007, just over two centuries later, the Ratapignata Grotto has been listed as an official Historical Monument (Monument historique).
Locating the Pyramid
Step 1 is to get to La Vallièra wilderness park, near the Aire de St Michel north of Nice.
The Aire de St Michel is at the road junction of the D114 and D214, north of Nice's Gairaut area and 2 km southwest of Falicon. There's a bus stop at the Aire de St Michel:
Bus #70, connects with Place Fontaine du Temple at the north of Nice, at Ave du Ray and Bvd de Gorbella / Bvd Comte de Falicon.
Bus #25 connects with Falicon, station J C Bermond.
From the Aire de St Michel the small Chemin de Chateaurenard (also marked with the red-and-white Grande Randonnée signs) goes up the hill about a km to the entrance of the park area. It's a 15-minute walk, or you can drive up and park along the road. On weekends, the parking places are probably full.
Step 2, from La Vallièra park entrance.
The GR5, marked with red and white signs, goes north through the park area, then up onto the Crete de Graus where it heads north to the village of Aspremont.
About 15-20 minutes up the trail, you pass a power pylon, and just after, there's a ruin of a stone house in the trees. At the far side of the ruin, go right onto a small path (marked with the red-white "X" for Not GR) that angles northeast through the trees. This path comes out on the hillside, and goes north along the flanc of the hill, about 5-10 minutes to the pyramid.
An alternate route is to continue on the GR5 when you pass the stone-house ruin. About 5-10 minutes up the GR, where is passes directly beneath very high power lines, take the tiny path off to the right, over the ridge. This little path angles back down the hillside (southeast) to the pyramid.