By the fall of the Carolingian Empire, the area was part of Lotharingia and later part of the County of Provence. In 1295, Charles II, Duke of Anjou, then Count of Provence, enticed the inhabitants of Montolivo and surroundings to settle closer to the coastline in order to secure the area from pirates. By charter, he established Villefranche as a “free port” thus the name, granting tax privileges and port fee rights that lasted well into the 18th century.
By 1388, East Provence became part of the Duchy of Savoy as a result of the disputed succession to the heirless Queen Joan I of Naples. For the next 400 years, the area known as the County of Nice was hotly disputed between the Holy Roman Empire to which Savoy was an ally and the French.
In 1543, the Franco-Turkish armies sacked and occupied the city after the siege of Nice, prompting Duke Emmanuel Philibert to secure the site by building an impressive citadel and a fort on nearby Mont Alban. In the late 17th century, the area fell to the French but was returned to Savoy after the Peace of Utrecht.
During the 18th century, the city lost some of its maritime importance to the new harbor being built in Nice but remained a military and naval base. In 1744, a Franco-Spanish army under the Prince of Conti overran the Piedmontese regiments of Charles Emmanuel III of Sardinia at the Fort of Mont Alban in the heights above the town.
Since the 1980’s Villefranche has become a noted cruise ships port of call, the first in importance in France.
Villefranche-sur-Mer is located about 6 km (4 miles) east of the city of Nice, separated by Mont Boron, Mont Alban and Mont Vinaigrier, and 10 km (6 miles) south west of Monaco. The bay (rade) of Villefranche is one of the deepest natural harbours of any port in the Mediterranean Sea and provides safe anchorage for large ships, reaching depths of 95 m (320 ft) between the Cape of Nice and Cap Ferrat; it extends to the south to form a 500 m (1700 ft) abyss known as the undersea Canyon of Villefranche at about one nautical mile off the coastline.
The city limits extend to the hills surrounding the bay climbing from sea level to an altitude of 520 m (1750 ft) at Mont-Leuze, reflecting on land the features found offshore. The three "Corniches" or main roads linking Nice to Italy pass through Villefranche and offer spectacular vistas of the coast and surrounding hills.
Built on terraced hills overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, The Old Town is an intricate labyrinth of steep paved streets and lanes with limited automotive traffic access. The Promenade des Marinieres stretches along the waterfront lining the north side of the bay. A massive walled citadel built in 1557 by Emmanuel Philibert, Duke of Savoy lays on the water's edge. Today, the ancient fortress houses the Town Hall, a convention centre, three museums and an open air theatre.
In the heart of old town, Église Saint-Michel (Saint Michael's Church) was built in the 1750s in the baroque Italian-style where originally stood a more modest early 14th century church. It houses various works of art, notably a large Saint Michael painting above the marble main altar, an 18th century life-sized Christ sculpture and a polychrome wooden statue of San Rocco. The organ built by the Grinda Brothers in 1790 is one of the oldest of the County of Nice still in operation. The building was included in the French Historic Sites Registry in 1990.
The Chapelle Saint-Pierre (Saint Peter's Chapel) also dates from the 14th century. Used as a storeroom for local fishermen's nets and equipment for most of the 19th and early part of the 20th century, it was restored in 1957 with Jean Cocteau adding his now-famous murals depicting the life of the saint and of local fishermen.
From the Plateau Saint-Michel, the view stretches westward to the Bay of Angels in Nice, Cap d'Antibes and the Esterel in the distance more than 25 miles (40 km) away. On a clear winter day, one may also observe the mountains of Corsica in the distance.
The moderate climate, sandy beaches, and ambiance of its Old Town make Villefranche-sur-Mer a popular up-scale tourist stop. Currently, real estate prices are such that property here is affordable by only the extremely wealthy.
Stunning estates such as the Villa Leopolda (former residence of King Leopold II), La Bastide (built by Lord Salisbury), Villa Schiffanoia, Castèu Cansoun de la Mar or Domaine du Castellet are but a few examples of the wealth and luxury surrounding the bay.
In the past, Villefranche-sur-Mer was home to personalities Katherine Mansfield, Jean Cocteau, Aldous Huxley and pop star Tina Turner. The Rolling Stones recorded their 1972 album Exile on Main St. at Villa Nellcôte, then the home of Keith Richards and Anita Pallenberg.
The old town and the bay have offered for years a natural set for movie makers. Among many productions to name just a few: - Raoul Walsh’s Captain Horatio Hornblower - Adventures of Captain Fabian with Errol Flynn - Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief - The Count of Monte Cristo with Louis Jourdan - Leo McCarey's An Affair to Remember - The Madwoman of Chaillot with Katharine Hepburn - Never Say Never with Sean Connery - The Jewel of the Nile with Michael Douglas - The Bourne Identity with Richard Chamberlain - Dirty Rotten Scoundrels with Steve Martin, as well as numerous video clips and commercials.
Villefranche-sur-Mer is also a harbor for visiting naval forces and particularly US Navy ships.
Tender Notice: SIVOM de Villefranche-sur-Mer Seeks Marine Equipment, Security Equipment, Buoy Marking Services, Buoy Positioning Services (France)
Mar 20, 2009; Villefranche-sur-Mer, France, March 20 -- SIVOM de Villefranche-sur-Mer said it had a requirement of marine...