The Institut de France and the Town of Chantilly hosted the event to honour Hazar Imam's commitment to the town of Chantilly, an area with which Mawlana Hazar Imam and his family have strong historic ties. Prince Amyn represented Hazar Imam at the unveiling of a plaque at the Great Stables and the “His Highness the Aga Khan Road” sign. Also present were Princess Zahra, Prince Hussain, Prince Aly Muhammad, and Hazar Imam’s grandson, Iliyan. Prince Amyn delivered a speech including a message of gratitude from Mawlana Hazar Imam.
Hazar Imam's commitment to the area dates back to 2005, the year the Chantilly Foundation was established. He has contributed to the revival of the racetrack, the conservation of the castle, its gallery of paintings, its park and its Great Stables, as well as the restoration of the Jeu de Paume hotel and the preservation of works of art donated in 1884 by the Duke of Aumale. Mawlana Hazar Imam has also offered a generous donation to the Chantilly Foundation for the maintenance of the site since the Foundation's inception.
Éric Woerth, Member of Parliament for Oise, recalled the many discussions that led to the realisation of this ambitious undertaking: “Foundation was born on paper and in the minds of both the Institut de France and Prince Karim Aga Khan,” he said. “There was this extraordinary support for the cultural life of Chantilly, for the cultural life of the estate and for the idea that we should also market this estate a little more and make it a little better known. It's a beautiful, beautiful story.”
This collective project, mobilising the town of Chantilly, the department, the region, the State and the Institut de France, was able to benefit from the experience gained by the Aga Khan Development Network, particularly in the field of culture, as Prince Amyn explained in his speech:
“Drawing on the experience developed by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture in conservation, museology and management of numerous UNESCO World Heritage sites, the aim was to maintain and restore the majesty and grandeur of the entire Chantilly estate, placing innovation at the heart of thoughtful, efficient and sustainable management wherever necessary.”
The result is palpable and the impact is lasting, as evidenced by the moving message of Mr Xavier Darcos, Chancellor of the Institut de France:
“This plaque, this road, are discreet and modest witnesses to a colossal work. For the Aga Khan's hallmark is inscribed everywhere in the Château's rooms, as it is in the subtle network of lines running through its grounds. You know that thanks to his generosity, he was able to accompany the transformation of this French heritage landmark for some fifteen years. Thanks to him, like a promise of eternity, this estate will be restored to its former splendour".
“We are proud to inscribe the name of a Prince… spiritual leader of the Ismailis, in the history and in the stone of the Chantilly estate.” He requested that Prince Amyn “accept our immense gratitude... the immense gratitude we all owe [His Highness] for Chantilly, the unfailing gratitude he has brought to our heritage and, I would say, the gratitude of the entire nation.”
An equally moving testimony came from Isabelle Wojtowiez, the Mayor of Chantilly, when she declared: “This morning, the town of Chantilly honours itself by naming the road, which will remain a paved road, the Route Son Altesse l'Aga Khan (His Highness the Aga Khan Road). From now on, in the same way that the gates of the Château de Versailles are accessed via the Route de la Reine (Road of the Queen), the gates of the Château de Chantilly, and the town as a whole, will be accessed via the Route de Son Altesse l'Aga Khan.
Mawlana Hazar Imam’s commitment to the Chantilly estate is part of an ambitious and a long-term vision, Prince Amyn recalled:
My brother has always sought to present this heritage to the world,” he said, “not as a shining testimony to the past, but as a beacon for tomorrow, a light to illuminate our everyday lives. By preserving, conserving, restoring and rehabilitating, we transform the assets of history into economic springboards for future generations, while underlining and reminding us that what we share is greater and more essential than our differences.
It is this vision of hope, unity and sharing, embodied by Mawlana Hazar Imam, which will continue to illuminate the town of Chantilly and its future. No doubt the area will maintain an important role in the wider system of Imamat institutions and actions, illustrating what we can achieve together beyond our differences, and much more.