Only a garden was missing and everything was bare... Taken out in 2013, as the new real estate complex One Monte-Carlo was being built, Jardins des Boulingrins was finally restored alongside the space overlooking Place du Casino. Since the end of June, life has been green again at Casino de Monte-Carlo and Monaco has restored the original design from 140 years ago.
A casino on a plateau: from Les Spélugues to Monaco
It all started with the crazy idea to build a casino on Les Spélugues plateau — arid, wild land where olive, carob and fruit trees grew alongside grapevines. Why? To increase the Principality’s financial resources following the loss of the towns of Menton and Roquebrune in 1848. Taking the advice of entrepreneur François Blanc, Prince Charles II of Monaco decided to make Les Spélugues a holiday resort and playground for nobility and European bourgeoisie. The casino opened in 1863 and Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo opened one year later. And in 1866, Les Spélugues plateau became Monte-Carlo, in honour of the sovereign prince.
Monaco then flourished. With its majestic casino rising out of the ground, it was up to the Principality to dress up this bare rock. The first embellishments of greenery were added to Place du Casino, between roses and lemon and orange trees. But HSH Prince Charles III had other ideas and wanted to see the buildings of the brand new Société des Bains de Mer (created in 1863) surrounded with “gardens, groves, pavilions, walks, to make a comfortable and luxurious retreat for foreigners.” So, in 1879, the 39-year-old French landscape architect Édouard André was entrusted with the creation of the gardens.
Creation out of nothing
In 1879, Édouard André had just returned from a botanical expedition to Central and Latin America, where he had been blown away by the lush Amazon rainforest, inspiring this talented explorer of the plant world for his transformation of Monaco’s green spaces. That’s how he created, from nothing, La Petite Afrique, gardens with exuberant, tropical plants. To this exuberance he added the French contours of Jardins des Boulingrins, grassy lawns adorned with flower beds, bordered by Mexican fan palms and kurrajong trees. Elegant gardens gently sloping from Place du Casino to Avenue de la Costa. Why “Boulingrins”? Because of “bowling green”, from the chic, typically British bowling game played on a hilly grassy area and in which English tourists were already indulging at the time, in front of the casino, along the expanses of greenery and on hills. Édouard André adapted to this natural declivity by placing in this bowling green a creek cascading and flowing into a large pool below.
Almost a century and a half later, Jardins des Boulingrins are deeply rooted in the landscape and collective memory of the Principality. Aspects of their layout have evolved over the years, but their original identity of elegance and exoticism has remained intact. So, in 2013, when these green spaces were “moved” to make way for pop-ups at the Pavilions in Monte-Carlo Shopping Promenade, construction of One Monte-Carlo and revamp of Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo, it was unimaginable that they would not be restored once the work was complete. After six years of work, they were finished in June 2019.
Almost fifty “historic” plants were replanted alongside new spaces in Boulingrins. A highly anticipated rebirth, to the credit of landscape architect Michel Desvigne, who relied on documentary research work, mainly photographs, to restore its splendour to the era of Édouard André. “One piece of advice held true,” said Daniel Lambrecht, real estate director at Monte-Carlo Société des Bains de Mer: regain the famous view of Casino de Monte-Carlo. And the design also had to fit in the new neighbourhood of One Monte-Carlo, the flow of pedestrian and motorised traffic, as well as events in the Principality.”
The new Jardins des Boulingrins seem like a “both physical and historic link” between La Petite Afrique and One Monte-Carlo, between the past and the present. Less rocky and more green with two grassy, sloped spaces, these new gardens further reconnect with the bowling green of the past: two green expanses, like banners for the green approach important to Monte-Carlo Société des Bains de Mer, punctuated with pools and fountains and bordered with “very different plants depending on where you are.” Proteas typical of South African landscapes are especially interesting. Plants through which “it’s now possible to walk on one level, from Avenue de la Costa to Place du Casino.” As if to help pedestrians fully reclaim these gardens that previously housed luxury shops. Édouard André would be proud.