Provence & Côte d'Azur: The final chapter in our series on ‘the changing face of Antibes’
Ancient Greece meets 21st century Côte
Construction of a three-storey underground car park is the first stage of an ambitious project by Antibes Council to create a link between the old town and the port, while gradually making the town traffic free. The newly-created esplanade will also provide a pleasant tree-lined public area suitable for events and shows.
For car park operator Q-Park, under contract with Antibes Juan les Pins Council to undertake the estimated 20 million euro cost of Pré aux Pêcheurs car park and its construction, management and operation for 30 years, the challenges are two-fold.
One, they have to dig down to 17 metres below sea level in an area that was formerly in the Mediterranean basin, and two they must also accommodate the requirements of the National Institute of Archaeological Research (NIAR).
Taking all these factors into account, it is hardly surprising that the building of this state-of-the-art-technology car park has not been without its problems and riddles.
Something of a Greek saga
Work was due to begin on the project in March 2011 and barriers were erected around the site. The Antiques Fair, which has been staged there for many years, was moved to a specially prepared area in the car park opposite on the port in preparation.
As half the road running along the port past the car park was also closed off, traffic chaos reigned in central Antibes with long traffic jams and anarchic parking, particularly at night when cars took over the pedestrian area of Place de la Poste.
Meanwhile, there was no movement in the Pré aux Pêcheurs site and, due to lack of any information, rumours were rife. It was variously speculated that there were problems with ownership of land, that gas pipes were obstructing work, or that the ancient port had been discovered with many priceless treasures.
Antiques dealers at the fair decided to take matters into their own hands, removing some barriers and using part of the area to park their cars.In mid-April, Mayor Jean Leonetti issued a statement that Q-Park was awaiting results of underground network studies and as there was to be some delay, the car park would reopen.
Its future remained uncertain until the end of the month, when Leonetti informed residents that parking could continue until 21st August, and that building work was to start on 1st September.
Work begins in earnest
Q-Park, the second largest car park operator in France which also manages Jean-Marie Poirier, La Poste and Frères Olivier car parks in Antibes, promptly began work on that date. Working from early in the morning to late in the evening, they used special high-tech machinery to remove earth and mud and to make pits around the outer edges of the site. Cement-cast iron grills were then sunk to 15 metres depth, stabilising the outer walls of the future car park, making the area waterproof and ready for digging and excavation work.
Digging for treasure
But the car park stands on an ancient site and - in a strange twist where high tech and antiquity collide - the NIAR required that the entire area must undergo archaeological examination before work can continue.
Digging was halted at 50 centimetres from the calculated layer of the ancient port, and archaeologists began their investigation on 12th March this year. They are allotted an estimated period of six months, after which construction of the three levels of the underground car park can start.An exhibition and viewing platform in the ramparts was also opened in March, as Antibes Council wants to provide "total transparency" about the continuing construction of the car park.
Public welcome to view
The curious can now go and watch proceedings in the hope of seeing some great treasure unearthed, but according to a Q-Park spokesman nothing of very great importance has yet been found. Some fragments of boats have been discovered which are yet to be dated, and a lot of pottery fragments identified as coming from Italy, North Africa and the south of Spain.
All is now on schedule, despite the delays, and the new 600-place car park is due to open in June 2013 in time for the busy summer season. That is, of course, if the Greek gods are willing.
Other 21st century projects
Next to the SNCF railway station, work recently began on the Modernist Transport Hub which will facilitate connections between different services and is scheduled to be operational in 2016/17.
The controversial Marenda-Lacan building project, which included the demolition of approximately 30 per cent of the classic Haussmann-design buildings on the edge of the old town and construction of a cinema complex, is not going ahead for the foreseeable future, according to an official at the Municipal Town Planning Office.
No one was available for further comment at this time.