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The town dates back to the 5th century, when it served as an important staging post on the royal road from Nice to Turin. The old toll bridge used by travellers to cross the Bévéra, built in the 13th century, still stands. It was bombed by the Germans during World War II to prevent contact between the French Resistance ("The Maquis") and the Italians. Much of the town was destroyed. Renovated after World War II it now houses the tourist office. Ruins of a tower, part of a château belonging to the counts of Provence, are all that remain of the 14th century city walls.
The town of Sospel is mentioned in Daphne du Maurier's novel Rebecca, when Max de Winter declines an invitation from annoying social climber Mrs. Van Hopper on the excuse that he is driving to Sospel that day. In 1909 it was described in Gaston Leroux's novel, The Perfume of the Lady in Black (p. 151), as "a picturesque little city lost between the last counterforces of the Alps, two hours and half from Mentone by coach... It is one of the most retired and quietest corners of France, the most dreaded by revenue officers and by the Alpine hunters. But the road which leads to it is one of the most beautiful in the world." Sospel is a setting in the 1977 mystery novel All Roads to Sospel by George Bellairs.