At the Observatory Cave the saying “Better to be Safe than Sorry” is guiding a prudent approach to ensuring the safety of the rock face – which means the Cave has been closed to visitors since December 20th to allow reinforcement of the boulders and rock around them.
There was conjecture that the rainy season and work on underground parking had been the cause of destabilizing the rocky terrain, particularly around the Observatory Cave entrance. But in fact another saying applies: “Time Flies When You Are Having Fun”. It’s not quite 100 years yet but it was as long ago as 1933 when the Jardin Exotique and Observatory Cave were scenically enhanced in a major way with “faux-boulders” and “faux-rock”.
Which means time has taken its toll on some strategically placed faux-boulders that are actually composed of iron frames surrounded by chicken wire to which a mortar mix of cement and sand was added. Water over time has seeped in through cracks and rusted the iron frames. Freezing and thawing makes things worse.
“Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining”
Fortunately most of the rocks have been declared by experts to pose no risk. And there are a lot of these rocks; surprisingly more than three quarters of the rocks are man-made. Where there was a possibility of a movement or a rock-slide the Principality, the Mairie and the management of the Exotic Garden have unanimously said “safety comes first”. And the safety experts have selected as priority two overhangs near the entrance to the Observatory Cave as problem areas for immediate work – one where the boulders endanger a staircase and a walkway and the other could impact the stability of a group of palm trees.
A Lengthy Period of Reconstructing
No-one really knows how long it’s going to take to remove the unstable rocks and then reconstruct anew. The faux-boulders are integrated with real rock. It’s a unique task that’s going to challenge the firm that takes it on.
Removing the unstable faux-rock and stabilizing the real boulders is the first challenge. That would remove any danger and it would be nice if this could happen before May which is usually the time when visitor numbers steadily increase. But no-one is willing to predict when that safety-guarantee will be issued.
And the second stage of the work to create new faux-rock to enhance the aesthetic beauty around the Observatory – that will likely have to be done between seasons.
When you make faux-rock so realistic, most of which is likely to last over a century, it is not so surprising that by putting safety first it needs bolstering now.
It is just the Observatory Cave that is effected. Visitors will still be able to enjoy the Jardin Exotique. And they will enjoy a reduction in the price of entrance given the “Grotte” is closed. Entrance is reduced to 5.40 euros, that’s 2 euros less for adults (and there is a 1.10 euros discount for children down to 3.90 euros).