The History of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat – How a Humble Fishing Village Became the World’s Most Exclusive Destination
No-one could have predicted that the tiny fishing village of Saint-Jean, perched on an arid, dusty outcrop of the Cap Ferrat peninsula, would become the playground of the richest and most powerful people on Earth.
When Napoleon II claimed victory at the end of the Franco-Austrian War of 1859, the region of Nice was handed to the French, who immediately began to invest in the area. The newly-formed Compagnie Générale des Eaux created a 20,000m³ artificial lake, fed by the Vésubie, with an islet and a waterfall.
The lake transformed the ecology of the peninsula forever. The barren rock was soon populated by Aleppo pine woods, olive groves, and sub-tropical gardens.
The secluded hamlet of Saint-Jean grew, becoming a municipality in its own right in 1904. After a spell as Saint-Jean-sur-Mer, the resort took its rightful name as Saint-Jean-Cap Ferrat in 1907.
As the Cote d’Azur became the choice of destination for the world’s privileged few, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat was soon established as a legendary destination for those that could afford it, attracting everyone from the notorious King Leopold II of Belgium, to artists like Picasso and Matisse, and heads of state such as Winston Churchill, Charles De Gaulle, and Bill Clinton.
Cap Ferrat History in Ancient Times
If we trace Cap Ferrat history back to ancient times, we discover an older tale of even greater significance. The legend of St Hospitius dates from around 550 AD, and gives the point of the peninsula its other name – Cap-St-Hospice.
Hospitius was an Egyptian monk who moved to Gaul, as it was then known, and lived on the peninsula in a dilapidated tower by the sea (on a site now occupied by one of our villas, Cuccia Noya).
He maintained a grim, unforgiving lifestyle, surviving only on dry bread and dates. He was reputed to wear heavy iron chains on his wrists and ankles, as a self-imposed penance for his worldly sins.
When Cap Ferrat was beset by a force of marauding Lombards (a Germanic people who ruled much of Italy during the 6th century), the invaders observed Hospitius’s chains and mistook him for a criminal. When questioned, he freely confessed to a variety of crimes, including homicide.
As the legend would have it, when a Lombard drew back his arm, raising his sword to dispense justice upon poor Hospitius, the Lombard’s arm remained frozen in place, as if by divine intervention. The Lombard and his comrades dropped their weapons, begging God for his forgiveness. Some converted to Christianity, some fled back to Italy, while some apparently died on the spot!
Hospitius, renowned for his preaching and his miraculous healing powers, was anointed as a saint after his death in the year 580 AD. He was buried in Nice, where a variety of relics (including some of his bones) can be viewed at the Cathedral and other churches in the region.
Source : "Le temps retrouvé", Didier Gayrud (original french text)