As you walk from the Villefranche-sur-Mer train station towards Old Town, you cannot miss the large stone fortress, the Citadel of Saint-Elme, on your left.
The Citadel is located on the waterfront in Villefranche and was built to defend the harbour, and also the city of Nice from the east.
The reason for building the fortification was an attack by the Turkish fleet, led by the infamous pirate Barbarossa, in 1543. At that time, the city had no chance against the Turks. Therefore, in 1566, work began on a new defensive system designed by the Italian engineer Gian Maria Olgiatti, which included innovations in artillery and the use of gunpowder. The Citadel is surrounded around its entire perimeter by thick walls, which are reinforced on the seaside. In addition, the entire fortress is surrounded by a wide moat. It is therefore only possible to enter the fortress via a bridge. The citadel is part of the extensive ‘Alla Moderna’ fortress system. The Villefranche citadel is complemented by the smaller forts of Saint-Alban and Saint Hospice.
Today it houses the Town Hall, conference centre, four museums (Le Musée Volti, Le Musée Goetz-Boumeester and La Collection Roux, all free to enter), an open-air theatre and gardens. The entire citadel is free to the public. The gardens in particular are really worth a visit if you want to relax and breathe in the fresh sea air.