Provence & Côte d'Azur: Completed projects in the new millennium
The changing face of Antibes Juan les Pins
The town of Antibes has known many changes since its beginnings as the Greek city of Antipolis in the fifth century BC. In 154 BC it became part of the Roman civilisation and possessed a theatre, amphitheatre, thermal baths, aqueducts and triumphal arches, while serving as an important trading post.
After the departure of the Romans, the town endured a long military history and battled many invasions. When Provence was attached to France at the end of the 15th century, Antibes was the frontier town of the Kingdom of France.
In resisting Napoleon's demands for assistance when he landed in Golfe Juan from Elba Island in 1815, Antibes was duly rewarded by Louis XVIII with a commemorative column erected in Place Nationale recognising the inhabitants' valour and loyalty. Then came the attachment of the adjacent Earldom of Nice to France in 1860 and creation of the département Alpes-Maritimes.
It was in the early 1900s that a section of the 18th century ramparts encircling Antibes was demolished to allow the town to expand. The Porte de France, which was the only gateway out of Antibes onto land and that looked out over open countryside, still stands at the edge of what is now Place de Gaulle, constructed at the beginning of the 20th century and the first element of what would become the 'new town'.
With the new century came tourism and Juan les Pins was developed as a seaside resort.
A fashionable destination much-loved by royalty and stars of the day, it was balmy evenings by the Mediterranean that were the inspiration for Scott Fitzgerald's Tender is the Night. In 1960, the first European jazz festival, Jazz à Juan, was held in the pine grove, and a 'Genius' named Ray Charles played his first European concert there.
Though it continued to expand, Antibes was less urbanised than other towns on the coast, retaining its rustic atmosphere and attracting artists and writers to its picturesque charms. It has transformed from a village of 11,000 in 1900 to the large town with a population of 77,000 that it is today.
Since the start of the new millennium, there has been a concentrated burst of new building and renovation projects, and Antibes is once again undergoing big changes. The Riviera Times will be describing these for you over the next months and we begin by looking at what has been achieved so far this century.
Place de Gaulle where the new town began
Restructuring work began in Place de Gaulle, the square that was the symbol of the ‘new town’ in the 1900s. Tall orange trees, gardens and wooden benches have been removed and the entire area resurfaced and laid with natural stone paving. Saplings were planted and plant boxes and marble benches lined the walkways. An intricate system of fountains was installed; very popular on hot days when children and the odd dog dart through the spray.
At Christmas time, the fountains are illuminated in changing colours and are an integral part of sound and light shows, with images projected onto the Grand Hotel opposite.
The square is specifically designed to be multipurpose, and the fountains can be turned off and the whole area used for frequent shows and events such as fashion parades and car shows.
Albert 1er and Wilson boulevards
The main streets Albert 1er and Wilson leading off the square to the sea and Juan les Pins respectively have also recently been restructured. Antibes Council's stated aim was to slow down traffic and make walking more relaxing and aesthetically pleasing for pedestrians with attractive urban design and street furniture. The streets have also been narrowed and many parking places removed. The pavements were widened and resurfaced in a deep red mineral coating with a central natural stone walkway containing embedded small solar energy lights in some areas.
While local residents and shopkeepers agree that the boulevards are certainly very attractive, drivers bemoan the fact that there are far fewer parking places.
Chantier Naval makeS way for ‘Promenade des Arts’
At the other end of central Antibes on the port, the Chantier Naval (boatyard) that had been converted into an opera house, was demolished. The entire area was flattened and resurfaced, creating a large courtyard named Bastion Saint Jaume which is used for shows and festivals. The most popular, staged in the summer months with sardine barbecues set up in the evenings, are the Festival of Saint John when a fire is lit that everyone dances around, and that of Saint Peter, patron saint of sailors, when an open air church service is held.
New steps were made leading up to the platform above behind the ramparts, where the monumental Nomad statue was permanently installed in 2010.
Shining out like a beacon safeguarding the town at night, the work is the most visible sign of Antibes' regard to the future. An initially controversial acquisition, locals appear to have taken the statue to their hearts, and many visit it to sit inside on its large arms and enjoy the spectacular view.
This section of the ramparts and internal walkway has been renovated and is beautifully illuminated at night, and leads to the Picasso Museum in the heart of the old town; a walk by the sea that has been named the Promenade des Arts. The museum has also been renovated and gardens and parking places removed from the large forecourt surrounding it. The whole area was laid with grey marble tiles in modern style, throwing the ancient, pale sandstone Grimaldi Chateau into stark contrast
Though a nearby resident misses the shady olive grove, one visitor found it looked "like a movie set" and all are agreed that the removal of car parking made the whole area much more pleasant.
The Hotel Royal
At Ponteil beach in the 'new town', the Hotel Royal where British author Graham Greene always stayed on the third floor in room 51 with a small desk for working at, was demolished. Part of their first memories of Antibes for many visitors, its passing was not without some sadness.
In the early stages, there was talk of keeping the hotel’s façade, built around 1920, but the developers considered it did not have sufficient aesthetic appeal to merit the cost of extensive renovation.
A large, gunmetal grey, glass-fronted residence with hotel rooms at the back, built on geometric lines has taken its place, with a café and terrace overlooking the sea.
The Médiathèque multimedia municipal library
In the town centre, the six storey Médiathèque (media library) was constructed on former building land and a car park. Another resolutely modern design, the building has a light and airy central well that is open to the roof, with wooden ramps as well as stairs and lifts linking the floors. The library has been an enormous success, with its large, comfortable reading areas well-stocked with the French and international press, four floors housing an extensive collection of books on all subjects for all ages including an impressive array of comic strip books in several languages, CDs, DVDs, 'talking books', free access to computers and internet and a wide range of English books, plus Italian and German.
There is a large exhibition area on the ground floor as well as spaces throughout the library that are used for events and concerts.
AWARD WINNING RENNOVATIONS
he renovation of the 16th century Saint Bernardin Chapel in the old town was awarded a Departmental Heritage Award in recognition of the excellence of the work.
The roof terrace of the Bastion Museum at the end of the ramparts was resurfaced and waterproofed and everyone can again walk up the ramp to this oasis of calm with its splendid views of the coastline.
Villa Eilenroc on Cap d'Antibes has also been renovated and an olive grove and eco-museum have been added to the gardens.
A coastal pathway has been opened next to the house, providing a beautiful walk around the Cap along the rocky coastline.
Next month, The Riviera Times will present the current large scale building projects being carried out in this seaside town as it looks to the future, while also endeavouring to adhere to environmental standards and improve the quality of life for residents in the town.