It is known that the locality, where the modern town of Villefranche and the neighboring Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat and Beaulieu-sur-Mer are located, has been inhabited by humans since prehistoric times. Subsequently, the representatives of the Celtic-Ligurian tribes, who were engaged in agriculture, settled there. The Greeks and later the Romans used natural anchorage as a stop on the way to the Greek colonies of the western Mediterranean. Before the fall of the Carolingian Empire, the region formed part of Lorraine, belonged to the county of Provence. In 1295, Charles II, Duke of Anjouin order to protect the territory from the pirates, founded the town of Villefranche (in translation - «free town»), which was initially granted extensive rights and benefits of free trade.
By 1388, East Provence became part of the Duchy of Savoy. 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 troops liberated Villefranche from the Italians, after a successful siege of Nice, prompting Duke Emmanuel Philibert to secure the site by building an impressive citadel la Citadelle Saint-Elme (1557), and a fort on nearby Mont Alban, which provided protection to the town. In the late 17th century, the area of Villefranche along with Nice 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 harbour being built in Nice but remained a military and naval base. In 1860, as a consequence of the Risorgimento (the process of the unification of Italy), it was finally given to France by treaty following a plebiscite, when the villagers expressed their desire to be part of France. At the same time, the site was also the winter residence for royalties and wealthy visitors from all over Europe.
After 1945, the Citadel was abandoned and destroyed, and only after the acquisition by the City Council (in 1965), it was restored. Now, the town hall, a conference room, three museums and an open air theater are located here.
At the end of the nineteenth century, the bay of Villefranche was used by the Russian Navy, whose ships were allowed to stay there on the roads for resupply. In 1885, the Russians established an Oceanographic Laboratory that operates now, in the old lazaret. The bay of Villefranche housed the Sixth Fleet of the United States (the U.S. 6th Fleet) after World War II, as part of the Organization of the North Atlantic Treaty between 1945 and 1966, which was rotated from the town in 1966 at the insistence of the French President Charles DeGaulle. Since the 1980s, Villefranche is one of the most visited cruise ship ports of call in France.
Villefranche is now part of the Urban community of Nice Côte d'Azur and so can be considered a suburb of the Nice metropolitan area. The population is about 5.5 thousand people with a tendency to decrease, due to the aging population and the rising cost of real estate.
Église Saint-Michel (Saint Michael's Church) (14th century), in the heart of old town, was built in the 1750s in the baroque Italian-style where originally stood a more modest early fourteenth century church. The beautiful main altar of the temple is made of local stone with marble accents as well as a large Saint Michael painting. It houses various works of art, notably a recumbent sculpture Christ (18th century) known as the "Christ of the Galleys", and the organ built in 1790 is one of the oldest of the County of Nice still in operation.
The Chapelle Saint-Pierre (Saint Peter's Chapel) dates from the sixteenth 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 Peter and of local fishermen, for whom he was the patron saint. In the port, you can see the bust of the artist.
La vielle rade de Darse (Le port de la Darse) (The old harbour of la Darse) dates back to the 17th century. Built originally for the galleys of the Duke of Savoy, it is now a marina with dockyard activities for yachts.
Unusual and mysterious street The Rue Obscure (fr.) or «Dark Street» is a passageway under the harbour front houses which dates back to 1260, like no other place of the town immersed in the atmosphere of the Middle Ages.
The Villa Léopolda on the hills surrounding was once the residence of King Leopold II of Belgium and has been tagged as «the most expensive house in the world». La villa de la baronne de Rothschild (Baroness Rothschild villa) is also interesting, a paradise surrounded by greenery and flowers of seven parks.
Musical fountains strike with an amazing combination of water and music extravaganza, which merges with the sound of the surf and the chirping of cicadas.
There are a lot of good beaches with the cleanest water in the town, Plage des Marinières is the main beach, stretching for 1 km under the track of the railway line linking Nice to Italy.
The old town and the bay have offered for years a natural set for moviemakers. Among many productions to name just a few: Adventures of Captain Fabian, The Count of Monte Cristo, Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief, Never Say Never Again, The Jewel of the Nile, Killers with Ashton Kutcher, Ronin with Robert De Niro.
Some scenes in Amy Plum's «Revenants» trilogy take place in Villefranche-sur-Mer. It was also at Villefranche-Sur-Mer, that The Rolling Stones recorded their 1972 album.
The town is constantly becoming prettier and more attractive to travelers. They are constantly working to improve the image of the resort city. Today, a thalassotherapy center is preparing to launch in Villefranche, which will allows relaxing and be treated there year-round.