Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Bay of Villefranche sur Mer


Photo of Villefranche Bay by John Puckett

One of my faithful readers has let me know that there is more to the story of the name of Villefranche sur Mer than "a French city by the sea".  

 Villefranche Bay is one of the deepest natural harbors of any port in the Mediterranean. 

  Because of this fact,  the town of Villefranche sur Mer has become an important port over the years and can provide safe anchorage for large ships, reaching depths of 95 m(320 ft) between the Cape of Nice and nearby Cap Ferrat.  There is, as well, an undersea canyon at about one nautical mile off the coast.  
 
Because of these natural assets , the US Navy regularly used the port of Villefranche for its Sixth Fleet between 1948-1966 .  At that time, however,  French President Charles De Gaulle withdrew France from NATO and took away that privilege. 

 However,  from around the years 2000, I was invited to the Ni├žoise annual July 4th celebration for four consecutive years. 

  This was by way of thanking me for volunteering to help teach English at the club then called   "France/Etats Unis".  Each year that I was invited,  the officers from the American Naval Sixth Fleet were in attendance dressed in their impeccable white uniforms.  I even danced with some of them to the swing tunes of the talented band composed of local "Pompiers" (firemen).  It was during one of the stints when Jaques Peyrat was the mayor of Nice and he approached me and asked me to introduce myself when he saw me start up the dancing. 

 The officers' ship was stationed in the Bay of Villefranche sur Mer they told me. 

  There is a long and complicated relationship with France and the US concerning NATO....so perhaps this was just a gesture of goodwill at the time.  Maybe one of my readers can tell me how this came to be. 

  Since the 1980's,  I understand that that bay is used only for cruise ships.  In fact Villefranche Bay is the most popular port-of-call for cruise ships in France and one regularly sees them stationed off of the coast when one passes on one of the three roads or "corniche" that run through the mountainside of the town.

But back to the name of that small port town, Villefranche sur Mer: 

 During the late 18th century, Villefranche lost some of its maritime traffic to the new Lympia harbor being dug in Nice, although still remaining an important military and naval base.  


Photo by John Puckett: Villefranche sur Mer


But even before that time the city had its present name.    "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."  (wikipedia) forming a village at the sea. 

 Then Charles II established Villefranche meaning "free city" a tax free zone giving it its present name.  The tax privileges and lower port fees Charles II established were to compete with the port at Nice even before it was dug out to the size it has become today. 

These tax laws lasted well into the 18th century. The project of digging the new enlargement of the Lympia port of Nice itself began in 1748 with King Charles-Emmanuel III and continued for a century and a half till its completion.


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