Number 24 in our History of Monaco series:
Prince Rainier III will forever be mentioned in history as the ‘Builder Prince’ and he owes that status mainly to his masterpiece: the creation of Fontvieille. In 1964, he made the courageous decision to build an entire neighbourhood in the sea. This project cost seventy million dollars and many of his advisers declared the head of state crazy when he wanted to extract 22 hectares of building land from the sea. The purpose of this district was not only living space but also space for factories, workshops, laboratories and offices. So the creation of Fontvieille had mainly an economic purpose. The construction of a new district also created space at sea for the construction of an extra port for luxury yachts.
Prince Rainier found Swiss, Italian and French financial institutions willing to advance the money for the project. In the autumn of 1965, a one-kilometre dike was built off the coast of Monaco and Cap d’Ail, which was anchored to the seabed with a so-called pyramid construction. Between this dike and the mainland, numerous boulders of rocks from the hinterland were poured into the sea to lay a foundation on which a district could be built ten years later. In some places, a depth of forty metres had to be filled. It became a mega-operation.
In 1974 Monaco had a new piece of land that had been reclaimed at sea and could be arranged entirely according to its own needs. However, it was not intended that skyscrapers would be built in this district because the view of the palace would then be obstructed and the residents of the upper floors could look into the palace garden. The preference was for ‘low-rise buildings’ of up to five floors. It was not until the nineties that higher flats were allowed. The district was initially decorated according to the Provençal architectural style, as had happened in Port Grimaud. The main building of Fontvieille became the Louis II sports complex, with on the third floor the football field, above a parking garage and some sports halls and two Olympic swimming pools. This complex was opened in 1985. A park was also created and the district got its own church.
On the edge of Fontvieille there was room for the construction of a héliport, so that visitors could quickly reach the Principality from Nice airport. And there was room for a large circus tent, where other events could be held in addition to the annual circus festival. The old stadium was demolished and on that spot a new shopping centre was built to the standards of the time with a large supermarket. Through the construction of tunnels under the Palace and the Rock, Fontvieille was connected with Condamine and the rest of the country.
Thanks to the creation of Fontvieille, Monaco was able to catch up economically with the ambitions of Prince Rainier. After 1985, business boomed in the new district.
“Prince Rainier has given the Monegasques a sense of responsibility. He convinced his subjects that they had to work to maintain their prosperity. He made them feel that if their business became profitable, everyone was fine,” the journalist Roger-Louis Bianchini said in an article for the monthly GEO in 1993 to explain Monaco’s economic success.
Industry in Fontvieille was still partly camouflaged because it was not immediately visible that the apartment buildings housed laboratories, workshops and even factories. Of course, that did not fit with the image of Monaco as a holiday destination for the ‘rich and famous’. Nevertheless, Monaco, and especially Fontvieille, was the engine of the regional economy and thousands of people from Nice and the surrounding municipalities plus Italians from the Ventimiglia neighbourhood came to Monaco to work. The new district soon became responsible for much of Monegasque prosperity. The cosmetics companies Lancaster and Biotherm had their laboratory in Fontvieille, the La Monégasque cannery had a factory there, with an area of 7000 m² and high-quality companies such as Single Bouy Moorings – the other SBM – and the assembly company Silvatrim also settled in Fontvieille.
Of course, the economy also picked up in other parts of the country due to these increased activities. The banking sector expanded enormously during the reign of Prince Rainier. In 1955 there were 35 different banking institutions in Monaco. Forty years later, there were 170 for 360,000 accounts with an estimated capital of seventy billion euros. At the turn of the century, three thousand people were employed by financial institutions in Monaco. That was almost as many employees as SBM employed at the time. That company also had to deal with a huge boom in the eighties.
Monaco’s strong economy thanks to its own business gave the Principality even more strength and energy to continue to develop. In 1992, Prince Rainier stated: “Monaco has concentrated on attracting light industry. Usually it is not really polluting. We simply cannot afford large factories and heavy industry because we do not have the opportunity to provide less skilled personnel. In principle, the employee in Monaco must have received training because many companies in Monaco do scientific research and innovation. That’s what we want to focus on with a view to the future.”
PHOTO: A model of the Fontvieille district