French Riviera Mansion Built on Mass Murder Sells for $220 Million

Saturday - 17/08/2019 23:16
Bloomberg/Getty
Bloomberg/Getty
Fortunately, Leopold is only a footnote on the Cap Ferrat where his legacy is buried in the past and where the beauty of Villa Les Cèdres lives on despite its provenance.

Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, FRANCE—Villa Les Cèdres, which sold last week for $220 million, is perhaps the most opulent villa on one of the most expensive slices of real estate on the planet. But it comes with a sinister past.

A cream-colored, 18,000-square-foot, 14-bedroom mansion built in 1830 , Villa Les Cèdres is perched on 35 acres of manicured lawns and private gardens with thousands of exotic plants. It lies on the western shore of this rocky, wooded peninsula nestled between Nice and Monaco where the Maritime Alps plunge into the sea.

The buyer, for now, remains a mystery.  However, during the Belle Époque, Villa Les Cèdres was once home to one of the world’s most murderous colonialists, King Leopold II of Belgium. A white supremacist extraordinaire, he was once dubbed “Satan and Mammon in one person.”

The ambitious king, who was also reportedly a pedophile, kick-started Europe’s so-called “Scramble for Africa” in the 1880s. He shrewdly convinced the world that his bloody and enormously lucrative land grab in the Congo that led to the murder of 10 million Africans and forced labor of countless others was for humanitarian reasons.

'Armchairs and tables stand beneath chandeliers as 19th century portraits in ornate frames adorn the walls of a sitting room inside the Villa Les Cedres, a 187-year-old, 18,000-square-foot, 14-bedroom mansion set on 35 acres, in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, France, on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017.' Bloomberg/Getty
C"Armchairs and tables stand beneath chandeliers as 19th century portraits in ornate frames adorn the walls of a sitting room inside the Villa Les Cedres, a 187-year-old, 18,000-square-foot, 14-bedroom mansion set on 35 acres, in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, France, on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017."
Bloomberg/Getty

 

Leopold cleared a profit of about the equivalent of 1.1 billion in today’s dollars, mostly from rubber, during the 23 years he owned the Congo and oversaw the brutalization of the natives—all without stepping foot in Africa. The atrocities were unknown to the outside world for years.

“While he was living there, at Villa Les Cèdres, millions of Congolese were dying as a direct and indirect result of his forced labor system,” Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold’s Ghost, a riveting account of the Leopold’s brutal reign, told The Daily Beast.

“Even though his private ownership of the Congo was absolutely central to the latter part of his life, he never went there. He knew that roughly one out of three Europeans who did so during his lifetime died from tropical diseases for which there was as yet no cure (a statistic he kept secret), and he had no desire to take the risk—or to see the conditions under which his great fortune was made.” 

Locals—and they have included David Niven, Oscar Wilde, Charlie Chaplin, Noel Coward, Baroness Beatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild, the Rolling Stones, Paul Allen and Andrew Lloyd Webber to name just a few—call this one-time impoverished fishing village simply Cap Ferrat.

Covered in lush vegetation, studded with pine and olive trees, with 360-degree views that include Elton John’s home at the top of Mt. Boron in Nice, the Baie des Fourmis, Eze and the Tête du Chien 1500 feet above Monaco, Cap Ferrat also offers one of theprettiest coastal trails in the world, a 3.6-mile trek around the perimeter of the peninsula, “It’s magical, peaceful and private,” says the real estate broker Jameson Farn, owner of Experience the French Riviera, who’s lived on Cap Ferrat for four years and leases villas in the area that start at about $90,000 per night.

“I’m always in awe. The history, the intrigue, the incredible personalities who lived here in the past and live here today – I never take it for granted.”

Villa Les Cèdres’ amenities include a ballroom, stables and an Olympic-size swimming pool, along with jaw-dropping views of the Mediterranean that on a clear day extend all the way to Corsica.

The sun shines here 300 days a year. So it’s not where you expect to find traces of the man whose evil works inspired Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novella, Heart of Darkness.

But Leopold II left his mark all over Cap Ferrat. The British writer Somerset Maugham, who famously called the French Riviera a “sunny place for shady people,” moved into another of Leopold’s former properties here, the magnificent Villa La Mauresque, in 1927, almost 20 years after the king’s death.

Campari, the current owners of Villa Les Cèdres, have yet to identify the new buyer other than to say it is a private individual.

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