Last modified: 2019-04-13 by ivan sache
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Flag anf gonfanon of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat - Images by Ivan Sache, 27 February 2019
The municipality of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat (1,628 inhabitants in 2015;
248 ha; tourism website) is located on the French Riviera, 10 km east of Nice and 10 km west of Monaco.
With Beaulieu-sur-Mer and Villefranche-sur-Mer, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat forms the Golden Triangle of the French Riviera, the area where property prices are the highest in France.
Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat is named for Cape Ferrat, a long, narrow peninsula
that separates the Bay of Villefranche Bay (west) from the Bay des
Fourmis (Beaulieu, east). Rocky and dry, the area was sparsely populated
until the end of the 19th century.
The first known inhabitant of Cap Ferrat, a Benedictine hermit, St. Hospitius, lived in the 6th century in a tower, willingly experiencing complete destitution for the sake of his soul. The legend says that during the Lombard invasion, which the saint had predicted, a pagan attempting to kill the saint had his arm paralyzed and immediately converted to the Christian religion. Erected in the 11th century on the ruins of a former sanctuary, the St. Hospitius chapel was totally revamped in the 17th century by Duke of Savoy Charles-Emmanuel II (1634-1675; crowned in 1638), and increased and supplied with an altar in the 18th century. Once a popular place of pilgrimage since the saint was credited numerous miraculous healing events, the chapel housed more than 100 ex-votos, lost since then.
Located beneath the chapel, the maritime cemetery was established in 1905 as the municipal cemetery on a plot offered by Auguste Gal, a rich merchant from Nice.
The Saint-Jean hamlet, part of the municipality of Villefranche-sur-Mer,
was inhabited by a few farmers and fishers established near the St.
John the Baptist church (11th century) and the old port.
In 1876, the Compagnie Générale des Eaux built a lake (6,800 sq. m), supplied in water by river Vésubie and decorated with an islet and a waterfall. Vegetation diversified and densified, transforming the barren Cape Ferrat in a pleasant site of excursion for the inhabitants of Nice, who came in horse-drawn carts to picnic under the pines or to enjoy the restaurants that developed on the port.
Separated from Villefranche in 1904, the new municipality of Saint-Jean-sur-Mer was renamed to Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat in 1907.
Winter tourism developed on the French Riveria in the beginning of the
20th century. In Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, royalties and celebrities
acquired large plots of land, where they established properties still
known as the Big Estates.
While it is possible to walk all around Cape Ferrat and St. Hospicius Point by a scenic coastal path (11 km), the Big Estates hide behind high walls and cannot even be lurked from outside. The sole estate regularly open to public visits is the Villa and Gardens de Rothschild (website), often nicknamed the jewel of Cape Ferrat, if not of the whole French Riviera. Baroness Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild (1864-1934), the daughter of the banker and art collector Baron Alphonse de Rothschild (1827-1905), married in 1883 the banker Maurice Ephrussi (1849-1916). Fifteen years older than his wife and a big gambler, Ephrussi transmitted to Béatrice a veneral disease that sterilized here. In 1904, scared by his personal debt that culminated to 12 million francs, the Rothschild family obtained the divorce. The next year, Béatrice inherited her father's huge fortune and passion for art, and acquired a plot in Cape Ferrat also coveted by Léopold II, King of the Belgians. She commissioned the best landscape designers of the time, Harold Peto (1854-1933) and Achille Duchêne (1866-1947) to design gardens; hundreds Italian workers took seven years to level the rocky promontory. For the design of the villa, the baroness turned down famous achitects and hired in 1907 Jacques-Marcel Auburtin (1872-1926) and Aaron Messiah (1858-1940). Inaugurated in 1912, the villa was furnished in eclectic, "Rothschild style"; Béatrice selected in the Beaulieu railway station pieces of furniture and artworks shipped directly from Paris, keeping the best pieces for the new villa and sending the other to her "second" villa in Monaco. The design of the gardens was initiated in 1912, starting with the French garden, visible from the villa.
In 1933, one year before her death in the Davos sanitorium in Switzerland, Béatrice de Rothschild bequeathed the 7 ha park, the villa and its 5,000 pieces of furniture and artworks to the Académie des Beaux-Arts. The landscape gardener Louis Marchand, hired to establish thematic gardens, re-established water basins and revamped the French garden. Abandoned during the Second War, the villa and the gardens were totally restored in 1945 by the very same Louis Marchand.
The villa is today surrounded by eight thematic gardens: French, Spanish, Florentine (the last remains of Béatrice's original Italian garden), Stony, Japanese (designed by Shigeo Fukuhara), Exotic (formerly Mexican), Rose, and Provençal.
Villa Santo Sospir (website) was acquired in 1946 by the art collector and patron
Francine Weisweiller (1916-2003), who invited in 1950 the poet and
painter Jean Cocteau (1889-1963) to spend a week in the villa. Tired of
idleness, Cocteau "tatooed" the bare walls of the villa with frescoes
inspired by the Greek mythology, with allusions to the French Riviera.
Soon a regular guest at the villa, Cocteau subsequently painted the
ceilings with pastels, designed two mosaics for the entrance and offered
a tapestry featuring Judith and Holofernes.
Villa Lo Scoglietto (today, Villa Fleur du Cap), one of the first vacation houses erected in Cap Ferrat, welcomed Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977) and was subsequently owned by David Niven (1910-1983).
Starting in 1889, Leopold II (1835-1909), King of the Belgians (1865-1909) acquired a domain of 50 ha in the western side of the peninsula; he first acquired a small mansion (today, Villa Iberia) with a private port and then the famous Villa Les Cèdres; increased and modernized, the mansion welcomed Grand Duke Peter of Russia (1864-1931), Lord Salisbury (1830-1903; Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, 1885-1886, 1886-1892, and 1895-1902), and Prince Carl of Sweden and Norway (1861-1951). Located beneath the St. Hospitius chapel, the Belgian cemetery recalls that Villa Les Cèdres was transformed in a military hospital by King Albert I (1875-1934; crowned in 1909) during the First World War. Nearby, Leopold II let build another mansion (today, Villa Radiana) for his mistress, Blanche Delacroix (1883-1948; aka Baroness Vaughan). Leopold II erected another three mansions on his estate, named Boma, Matadi, and Banana, named for three villages located on river Congo.
In 1898, the industrialist and politician Émile Crozet-Fourneyron
(1837-1909) let build on the elevated site of former wind mills the
circular Villa La Vigie (lit. the Watch), which overlooks the village
and offers a wide view on the coast, from Cap d'Antibes to the Italian
border. The nearby Villa Maryland, including a cloister-shaped patio,
was built in 1904 for Sir Arthur Wilson (1842-1921; Admiral of the
Fleet, First Sea Lord, 1910-1911). A personal friend of King Edward VII
(1841-1910; crowned in 1901), Wilson made of the villa the center of the
social life of the British colony overwintering on the French Riviera.
Ralph Curtis (1854-1922), an American Impressionist painter, built in 1902 a mansion in Italian style, roofed with green tiles. Named Villa Sylvia for the painter's daughter, the mansion was purchased in the 1950s by Pasha Ibrahim Hussein, who renamed it Villa Baia dei Fiori.
Château Saint-Jean, a neo-Gothic Venetian manor surrounded by a park and served by a private port, was built in 1899 for the Italian-German banker fCarlo Wedekind, as Château Wedekind. The Hungarian princess Wilma Iwoff de Parlagny renamed it to Château Saint-Jean in 1909. The mansion was famous for its bath, indeed a swimming pool of 1.60 m in depth and 3 m in width.
Thérèse Vitali, Countess of Beauchamp (1866-1940), acquired a 22-ha plot on
point Saint-Hospice, a narrow outlet located on the eastern part of Cape
Ferrat. Villa La Fiorentina, built in 1917, was subsequently acquired by
Sir Edmund Davis, a diamond magnate in South Africa. Even if the area of
the park has been reduced to 3 ha, the mansion is still considered as
one of the nicest of the French Riviera. Ernest Cunard, founder of the eponymous shipping line, built in the 1880s Villa Primavera,
subsequently owned by the Dutch industrialist Haring Philips; President
of the Republic Valéry Giscard d'Estaing (b. 1926; in office, 1974-1981) stayed there in 1974. Villa Les Bruyères, built in 1908, was purchased after the First World War by Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and
Strathearn (1850-1942), the third son of Queen Victoria (1819-1901; crowned in 1837), who owned it until 1942.
The writer Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) acquired in 1928 Villa La Mauresque, where he would die. He planted in the 4-ha parks several exotic trees, introducing avocado in Europe. Between the two World Wars, Maugham invited in the mansion prestigious guests, including the Duke of Windsor (1894-1972; King Edward VIII, 1936) and the Duchess of Windsor (Wallis Simpson, 1896-1986), Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965; Prime Minister of the united Kingdom, 1940-1945 and 1951-1955), the comedian Harpo Marx (1888-1964), the Canadian politician and businessman Lord Beaverbrock (1879-1964) and the Aga Khan (b. 1936).
Ivan Sache, 27 February 2019
The flag of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat (photo), widely used in the town, is
vertically divided blue-white with the municipal arms in the center.
A vertical, forked gonfanon of the same design was once (2010) hanging outside the St. Hospitius chapel.
The arms of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat are "Azure a tower or surmounted by a Paschal lamb on a rock of the same surrounded dexter by an anchor argent and sinister by a sea horse argent in base wavy azure and argent". The Paschal lamb is the attribute of St. John the Baptist. The tower refers to St. Hospitius while the other charges recall the maritime character of the place.
Ivan Sache, 27 February 2019