Sophia Antipolis, the unfinished dream of French Silicon Valley

Located in the middle of the scrubland in the hinterland of Nice, Sophia Antipolis ambition to bring together researchers, engineers and artists to imagine the world of tomorrow. Fifty years later, nearly 40,000 employees work there, but the original utopia never really came true.

By Pierre Sorgue Posted today at 14h28, updated at 14h28

Time to Reading 14 min.

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GSF, a large cleaning company, set up its premises in 1978 in a building of the technopole.
GSF, a large cleaning company, set up its premises in 1978 in a building of the technopole. Marion Berrin for M The World Magazine

A name on the highway. For thousands of motorists traveling to Nice or Monaco, the indication "Sophia Antipolis" which appears at the height of Antibes, is only a mysterious direction along a huge pine forest. It takes more than 20 years for the toponym evokes a certain idea of ​​modernity, the one that France cherished at the end of the "thirty glorious". A time when progress was still dreaming.

The year 1969 was not only erotic, it was technological: while an American set foot on the Moon, France was racing for the first flight of Concorde, thought of Airbus and the TGV, inaugurated its reactors second generation nuclear It was also political: Georges Pompidou, new president, praised the industrial modernization of the country and the plan Calculation for a French computer, while his prime minister, Jacques Chaban-Delmas, promised a "New society" which would make the country a kind of Sweden with the sun moreover. If the literate president imagined to restore its cultural luster in Paris by the construction of the Beaubourg Center, the powerful Datar (Interministerial Delegation for regional planning and regional action) wanted to end "Paris and the French desert" by sending the grandes écoles in the provinces.

"A Latin Quarter of the Fields"

Moreover, on April 29 of that year, in the South, the daily Nice morning evokes a project so futuristic that it appears as a galéjade: an "International City of wisdom, science and technology" will be implanted on thousands of hectares of scrubland, straddling Antibes, Vallauris, Mougins, Biot and Valbonne . Fifteen minutes from Nice International Airport, then the second in France, researchers, engineers, entrepreneurs and artists will hatch a Florence of the XXIe century. " The newspaper is racing: "Sophia Antipolis, the city with 20,000 researchers ..."

Read also: In our archives - Sophia-Antipolis: the gray matter will she take over?

Fifty years later, the XXIe century is advanced and the Florence in question never succeeded. On the highway, the name always indicates a place hidden behind the trees. Yet 38,000 employees work in 2,500 companies in the 2,400-hectare Sophia Antipolis. Europe's largest science and technology park remains the largest on the continent, generating 5.6 billion euros a year, a little more than tourism in the Alpes-Maritimes (5.5 billion).