What I wanted to do was to avoid turning [the Costa Smeralda development] into a business prospect, where one got everything out of it possible. I wanted to try to contain the development to make something really attractive, as far as one’s own judgement can do that, and avoid having the place completely swamped. We are trying here to stay in the background in the tradition of the island as far as possible….

The construction which will go with this tourism must justify industries, people coming to work here. They were all originally farmers or cattle breeders in the area and were scratching a living out of a land which was practically barren. Now with tourists as a reason for the income of money, the local population have regular salaries, their means of communication have improved, at least they all have now scooters and cars, they dress better, they have electricity in their houses and many modern facilities which I honestly don’t think could have been dreamt of before this project was started.

INCOMPLETE: We regret that from this interview, only limited portions made public by the reporter are available below. We would be very grateful if any of our readers who may have the complete transcript would kindly share it with us. Please click here for information on making submissions to NanoWisdoms; we thank you for your assistance.

Introduction by NanoWisdoms

During the 1960s His Highness the Aga Khan, then a young man in his 20s, led a consortium of private investors in the transformation of some 35 miles of desolate, untouched Sardinian coast line at Costa Smeralda, into a world class tourist destination. At an estimated 1969 cost of £70 million (approximately $200 million then, or £1.1 billion ($1.7 billion) today, 2012), the development was among the largest private construction projects of its time and put up some 9,000 buildings.

In 1986 the Aga Khan characterised the Costa Smeralda project as an enterprise “that probably one day will … come to be an important prop for our development efforts in the Third World,” (CBC, Man Alive interview, 1986). Indeed, Costa Smeralda is an invaluable case study (Philip Jodidio interview, 2007), pioneering principles of environmentalism in the leisure industry and also impact investment — a concept the Aga Khan today considers as “one of the most important … in the last 50 years” (Synergos Foundation interview, 2012) and a fundamental precept of the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (rational and strategy behind AKFED).

“A Man of the World” is a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the Sardinian development as well as the Aga Khan’s private and public life as Imam of the Ismaili Muslims. The programme, which features extensive excerpts from his interview, highlights his roles, objectives, principles and ethics which guided his vision and strategy in Sardinia.

In recognition of his contributions to the development of Sardinia’s economy and tourism, the Aga Khan was decorated in 1977 with the Order of the Knight of the Grand Cross, Italy’s highest honour and normally reserved for heads of state, and in 1988 he was also decorated with the Cavaliere del Lavoro (Knight of Labour). The Aga Khan was the first Muslim to receive these honours. (Source)

Video on YouTube with subtitles (or Vimeo, if YouTube is unavailable)
 

Audio & 250 image slide show (14MB PDF) if video is unavailable

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Interviewer: Unknown

Narrator: The Aga Khan: 28 years old and very likely the most eligible bachelor in the world. He is the Imam, the spiritual leader of the Ismaili sect of the Muslim religion — 12 million people scattered over 22 countries. His wealth is so enormous that to calculate it is impossible. And since a good deal of it is held by him in trust for the Ismaili communities, any such calculation is pointless. He’s certainly very rich.

He’s a direct descendant of Muhammad but is mother is English. He’s a Harvard intellectual, an honours graduate. He’s also an athlete and an Olympic skier. His father was Prince Aly Khan. It was his grandfather, the previous Aga Khan, who nominated him has his successor, on his death in 1957. He tells his own story …

His Highness the Aga Khan: The Imam, of course, is the spiritual leader of the community. The community is very mobile, they have always been mobile. Generally the figure that is given is between 12 and 5 [sic] million. The Muslims are divided into two main branches: the Shia Muslims and the Sunni Muslims. I suppose one could compare it to the division in the Christian Church between Protestants and Catholics. The main difference is that the Shia accept the members of the Prophet’s family as the rightful successors to the Prophet in his religious heritage. They do not attach to them the status of Prophethood, of course. This is against the basic principles in Islam. My family and myself trace our family line back to the Prophet and are accepted therefore by the community as the Imams.

My grandfather had not travelled a great deal and had sent my father, my uncle, my brother and myself out to the Ismaili communities on his behalf. I think that every member of the family was prepared for the responsibilities which might come to them. I don’t think that any member of the family knew who was going to be the Aga Khan.

My grandfather was born in Karachi, lived most of his lifetime in India and was the first member of the family, I think, to ever visit Europe. During the whole of his lifetime he studied Western techniques as a means of improving the standards of living of his own community. And at the end of his lifetime he had immense responsibilities. He had been President of the League of Nations, he had had a very active public life. My grandfather had not travelled a great deal and had sent my father, my uncle, my brother and myself out to the Ismaili communities on his behalf. I think that every member of the family was prepared for the responsibilities which might come to them. I don’t think that any member of the family knew who was going to be the Aga Khan. But the feeling, of course, when my grandfather died, was one of immense responsibility, a deep consciousness. The whole of one’s life as one had planned it had changed. I was no longer a student. I was 20 at the time, therefore a minor. But of course my whole status changed.

I left Harvard for a year and a half, toured all the main centres of the community, and then decided it was the last chance I would have to complete my university studies. So I went back to Harvard and completed the year and a half in half a year. But of course at the same time was handling community matters which was a lot to do.

Harvard is a tremendous training [sic] and I think it also teaches you to work under very heavy pressure if you want to get the best out of it. It is, I think, very unique to be able to listen to the greatest authorities on practically any subject which you can imagine. There were some 350 courses being given at Harvard. I audited as many as I could. Of course, I didn’t know that I was going to become Aga Khan so that before my grandfather’s death I audited and followed the courses which interested me. Then after his death I audited all those courses which I thought could help me in my work and I think was very lucky to be able to go there.

I enjoyed skiing so much that I decided that I wanted to improve and felt that the best way to reach [a] good standard of skiing was to go in for competition. So I started racing.

When I left Harvard, I felt to go through a day without getting out at all was the most awful prospect, so I decided to take up a sport which I could do regularly. And I went back to skiing. I enjoyed skiing so much that I decided that I wanted to improve and felt that the best way to reach [a] good standard of skiing was to go in for competition. So I started racing. And I skied for the British team for I think two years and was up for the Olympic Games. I did not train nor did I ski with the purpose of skiing in the Olympic Games. I skied because I wanted to improve my own standard of skiing because I enjoyed the sport.

Narrator: The Aga Khan normally lives in his house in Paris, he’s got a racing stable a few miles away in Chantilly, and 10 stud farms — 6 in France and 4 in Ireland. He owns in fact 242 horses — in this he’s following a family tradition.

Aga Khan: My grandfather’s father had some horses in Persia and my grandfather had some horses in India. But it was only, I think, when he came over to Europe for the first time and then … in fact it wasn’t even the first time, it was later on that he got interested in horse racing and decided to built up a stable. And he build up a stable, which I think was really an extraordinary achievement.

The decision for me to take over the racing establishment was difficult. I have got a lot to do. To take over an establishment which had had immense success and which was as public as horse racing was in itself a worry. I would have preferred not to take over the establishment at all than to take it over and see it dwindle and lose its vigour. So I hesitated. Added to that I had very, very little interest in horse racing. I was educated in Switzerland and in America and hardly ever went to the races at all.

Narrator: However, having decided to take up racing, it seems characteristic of him, that he’s taken it up seriously.

Aga Khan: I really am very interested in horse racing now. I watch it with [the] greatest interest and if I’m not in Paris or in England, or where ever the races are taking place, I’m very upset if I’m not informed with what’s going on. But the problem I had, and still have, is that my time for horse racing is limited and I have to fit it into a tight programme of work.

Narrator: His home in Paris is the centre, the headquarters, for all the Ismaili Muslims since the communities range over South America, Africa, Europe and the Far East it’s as logical for the centre to be here, as anywhere else.

Aga Khan: The fact that we live in countries where the dominant faith is not the same as ours, create everyday problems that have to be solved and on most of these the Imam is, of course, consulted.

Today I would say that the Imam’s duties cover secular problems just as much as religious problems. The Imam, particularly my grandfather and I have tried to keep up the tradition. I have helped create schools all over the world hospitals, insurance companies, banks –a complete fabric of institutions for the community to use and to better their standards of living.

After around a month and half of touring you find that you were no longer capable of concentrating on the problems as you should and in that case once you reach that point it’s better to stop the tour and try and get some rest, get some time to analyse what you’ve seen, plan for the future and then tour again.

Since I have left Harvard I’ve travelled every single year amongst the community. One journey or two journeys, three journeys, four journeys a year to the communities depending on what the problems are and whether it is urgent that I should be there or not. Generally it would be visits to the schools or the hospitals or the sports centres or a mosque in the morning, appointments with leaders [?] pending, planning development of the community in the future and I must say that if I am on to it, it’s just a series of appointments, discussions, visits and it’s very, very rough on everyone including the members of the community who follow these tours. Because in two months you’ve covered an enormous amount of ground and there is a limit to what a human being can absorb. After around a month and half of touring you find that you were no longer capable of concentrating on the problems as you should and in that case once you reach that point it’s better to stop the tour and try and get some rest, get some time to analyse what you’ve seen, plan for the future and then tour again.

Narrator: The place the Aga Khan has chosen for rest is the Costa Smeralda, a beautiful stretch of white sand and emerald sea on the northeast coast of Sardinia. His method of relaxation is, to say the least of it, unconventional. He’s devised and organised what is almost certainly the most unusual and imaginative coastal development plan in the world. Under his presidency a consortium of land owners has bought up 35 miles of coastline, including 80 beaches, which they are steadily turning into a place for holidays.

It’s a £70 million project and that part of it which includes turning a deserted inlet into the chief yachting harbour in the central Mediterranean, is already pretty well finished.

The consortium, keeps a firm control over the planning — they allocate sites, determine housing density, and vet all building plans by land purchasers. When the ten year plan is complete, there’ll be some 9,000 buildings along the coast: clubs, villas, flats, theatres, shops, offices and 35 hotels. The Aga Khan is not just the man with the capital, he’s the driving force.

Aga Khan: The quay of the port, I think, was built in record time. Between February and August we would have completed 280 metres of quay and really, I think that that is quite an achievement here in Sardinia or anywhere else.

Narrator: Anybody could look at this coastline and think it would be nice to have a house here, but not everybody would be prepared to tackle the problems of laying on running water and telephones and electricity, building roads, negotiating with governments and raising the money. If you’re the Aga Khan, you may have access to capital and to the ears of the necessary politicians. Even so, the transformation of 35 miles of wild Sardinia into 35 miles of a planned Riviera was quite a task to undertake.

Aga Khan: I was trying to get four or five days to myself because I think that one must get away at times. And I found absolutely no one down here and fantastic beaches free to one — not a cat on them and I really fell in love with the coast; it was the most beautiful coast line. And at the same time I had an awful feeling that one day this might be completely ruined by uncontrolled construction, uncontrolled development.

Well what happened was my grandfather had a house in the south of France, my father had a house in the south of France. I had been there often as a boy, then when I had my own boat, I cruised a lot on the Italian coast. When I came down here, I was so amazed by the quality of the beaches, the colour of the sea and scenery, that I decided that really I aught to have something down here.

What I wanted to do was to avoid turning this into a business prospect, where one got everything out of it possible. I wanted to try to contain the development to make something really attractive, as far as one’s own judgement can do that, and avoid having the place completely swamped. We are trying here to stay in the background in the tradition of the island as far as possible. We have tried to stop absolutely everything on the coast unless it has been properly studied and properly planned beforehand. It would be nonsense to say that we have achieved this. But I think [with] bad planning in construction first of all, you will ruin the site very quickly and secondly it will cost a tremendous amount of money. And so we try to take as much time as necessary for the planning and then to push the construction through just as quickly as it can go through.

I don’t know whether ever a coastline, as long as this one and as desolate as it was originally, whether the developers of an area such as this have ever had a chance to go back into the tradition of an island and a community which is unknown — Sardinia has tremendous folklore, art, tradition, custom, costumes and we wanted to take everything we could what was of Sardinian origin.

[Nishudivaka?] was a pretty bay naturally: pretty rock formation and a strange type of quiet charm and some people prefer it to to any other place on this coast. So the idea there was to build a hotel which would hardly be noticeable …

Carloforte was in fact rather a dull bay and the idea was to build something which would catch the eye in Carloforte so as to give it life and character. In [Nishudivaka?] it was just the opposite — [Nishudivaka?] was a pretty bay naturally: pretty rock formation and a strange type of quiet calm and some people prefer it to to any other place on this coast. So the idea there was to build a hotel which would hardly be noticeable and in fact from the air and from the sea you really have to look closely to even know then that the hotel is there.

The first hotel was built and opened within the space of ten to eleven months. That I think is, is very quick when you think there was nothing here. No water, no electricity, no roads, no sewerage system. The Costa Smeralda is such a vast area that we are hoping to attract practically every type of holiday-maker. We’ve already built a number of hotels which are in the first class and now are working on hotels for the second and third class.

We would like to have services for every type of holiday-maker, but at the moment we’re slightly restricted because of the means of communication with the island: the airlines, the boat services, etcetera. But in any case our planning includes a very wide range of hotels, apartments, etcetera so that every holiday-maker, whatever the length stay and whatever the size of his budget for his holidays, can come here.

We cannot really do any intensive type of development without having a model made and in the architectural rules the committee is allowed to call for a model even for a private house if they’re not quite sure where its going to turn out. And of all the major developments down here we’ve had these models made and they really do help. They help for the architectural committee to decide what changes are necessary, if any. And it also gives people the impression that they know something more about the coast. They know what it’s going to look like in a year or two.

What we want to do is to try in this development to provide the purchaser here with everything he needs. To build his house if he wants us to build it, to furnish it for him, if he wants us to do that, to plan his garden and run his garden for him.

The construction which will go with this tourism must justify industries, people coming to work here. They were all originally farmers or cattle breeders in the area and were scratching a living out of a land which was practically barren. Now with tourists as a reason for the income of money, the local population have regular salaries, their means of communication have improved, at least they all have now scooters and cars, they dress better, they have electricity in their houses and many modern facilities which I honestly don’t think could have been dreamt of before this project was started. When I came here the first time the road from Olbia, here, was totally un-tarmacked the whole way. One could hardly get here except by Jeep and by foot. Now the road is tarmacked to about two miles of [Carloforte?].

The roads are a problem for us because it’s a question of getting the government to build these roads so that we don’t lose a year in the development. We guarantee water, electricity, telephone, roads and sewerage. And on our own land there is the obligation to put the the telephone and the electric cables underground.

We are planning on building small workshops for artisans for furniture, materials, ceramics — all this sort of thing. The workman now have a regular income, they have work all year round.

The fact that people are now living and working in this area means that there will be the development of new municipalities, new towns, new villages. We are planning on building small workshops for artisans for furniture, materials, ceramics — all this sort of thing. The workman now have a regular income, they have work all year round. It is a different work. It is a work which, I think, even themselves are surprised to find how quickly they can learn. Sardinians run a new food store which provides for the whole of the Costa Smeralda. One of the services provided would be taking food out to a yacht, if they should need it.

We got a study made of all the tourist harbours in Spain, Greece, France and Italy. [We] went around asking harbour masters, sailors, harbour organisations, captains, all the sort of technical points as to what should be found on a quay. That is, for example fuel, water — whenever one needs it and with sufficient pressure so as to be able to fill a large yacht.

When the harbour was finished and the yachts came in for the first time, we could hardly believe that these months of very hard work were all over and that finally the port was occupied by such a large fleet of really lovely yachts. We had the impression that it was slightly unreal. We had worked in the harbour for many months without ever seeing the sign of a yacht and suddenly within 24 hours the quay was completely full up so were all the other floating pontoons in the bay. And in fact there were yachts anchoring in the middle of the bay. This was a really deep surprise and I don’t think any of us really appreciated its significance until well after the season was finished.

Narrator: The arrival of such a large section of the smart Mediterranean yachting set gave a dazzling launching to the Costa Smeralda enterprise. It’s too early yet to call the scheme a financial success but it certainly looks like a very good investment.

There could hardly be a scheme more European, more Western in its conception than this enterprise in Sardinia and yet the man who is bringing it about is claimed by millions to be the direct descendant of Muhammad. Seeing a scheme devised, with such imaginative insight into the needs and the tastes of the European smart set, it is impossible not to ask whether the Aga Khan, despite his spiritual office, is not really a Westerner himself.

Ever since I was old enough to understand a little bit of one’s own surroundings, I have always felt much closer to the East and till the day I die will always have these same feelings…. I’m very far away at heart from the West …

Aga Khan: Ever since I was old enough to understand a little bit of one’s own surroundings, I have almost felt much closer to the East and till the day I die will always have these same feelings. I learnt English and French long before I learnt any Oriental language but for years and years and years I have been studying Islam, studying the East. I mean if you asked me questions about the Christian Church, I would be very weak.

I’m very far away at heart from the West at the same time, I think that in many cases it’s wise for the Imam to have a certain amount of space, in time and distance, so that when he goes back to the areas which he has visited, a year earlier or two years earlier, he gets a really clear picture of the transformations that have taken place. Generally I try to do a tour of each area once every two years.

You know when the Imam is there most of the members of the community have at least half a day off every day if not the whole day. It’s nearly always a holiday when they close their shops. They usually decorate the institutions when the Imam arrives; decorate the airports. It’s really a time of festivity.

Narrator: The question remains, which is the real Aga Khan? The oriental, the Imam of the Ismaili Muslims? Or the rich young Parisian, the race-goer, the Harvard graduate, the man behind the Costa Smeralda? It would be easy enough to sum him up as a man of two worlds, but it wouldn’t be true. He doesn’t seem to take on a different personality when he moves from one to the other. In Paris or in a Pakistan village he seems to be exactly the same: conscientious, sympathetic, determined young man. If East and West have ever met, they have met here. He’s not a man of two worlds, perhaps the best description of him is that he’s a man of the world.

Aga Khan: I’m usually up around six in the morning and I try to work from around seven on-wards until around ten o’clock in the morning, independently of the secretaries. Then the secretary will come in at ten and we will work until around eleven-thirty, twelve. Then I will have appointments which will cover an enormous field of problems and then lunch, usually at home I don’t go out much. I do not like going out very much indeed. I would have more appointments in the afternoon, usually work in the evening, with the secretary again, and then in the evenings it depends entirely … either I stay at home or I will go out with friends. But generally speaking, in the last two or three years I’ve hardly been out at all because if you start early in the morning you really can’t keep going till four the next morning.

OTHER REMARKS BY THE AGA KHAN ON THE SARDINIA DEVELOPMENT

SOURCES

  • Original video Pacemakers: A Man of the World – The Aga Khan, London, United Kingdom, 1967

    [Text verified and/or corrected from this source by NanoWisdoms]

POSSIBLY RELATED READINGS (GENERATED AUTOMATICALLY)