Charles Garnier’s traces: his Villa in Bordighera

Art & Culture

Charles Garnier was one of the most important architects of the nineteenth century. It was he who designed, for example, the Paris Opéra in Paris, the Observatory of Nice, Monte Carlo’s Casino and its concert hall, Villa Maria Serena in Mentone and Villa Bischoffsheim, later called Etelinda, in Bordighera, tha layout of the Via Romana, the School Palace which later became the town hall and last but not least the church of Terrasanta in the modern part of Bordighera.

Garnier came to Bordighera to treat his child, struck by tuberculosis. In March of 1871, following the dramatic events of the Franco-Prussian War, Garnier lived in the town of Mentone at Villa Santa Maria, a guest of his friends Viale. The following May he bought a plot in Bordighera to build his home. The only extant preparatory drawing, in which the project of the bell tower with Moorish arches appears, then abandoned in the final design, testifies which style he wanted to adopt as a starting point: probably, as Garnier considered this place a strip of Palestine transplanted to Italy, he felt that the Moorish style was the most appropriate.

The elegant villa, with simple finishes, became a model repeatedly reproduced throughout the Riviera.

The park originally boasted about 600 different plants from every continent: olive trees, date palms, lemons, oranges and succulents. De Amicis called it “The palace of the Palms”. The garden has a wonderful column from the Tuileries, which was donated to their honoured president by the Society of French architects.

The villa is connected on three floors by an elegant wooden staircase, and it may be admired from the port of Bordighera; these days one can visit it or reside within it.

[Marco Scolesi]