While researching my previous posts on the Casino and Hotel Hermitage, I realised that I didn’t know enough about Monaco’s history. It’s the world’s second smallest country, preceded by only the Vatican. Ruled by the (in)famous Grimaldi family. As a harbour town, Monaco has enjoyed a colourful past, but in more recent years has settled as a secure tax-haven for the rich and famous. Let’s have a closer look at its provenance.
The Rock of Monaco was a shelter for primitive populations. Traces of their occupation were discovered in a cave in the Saint-Martin Gardens. The first sedentary inhabitants of the region, the Ligures, are described as a mountain people, accustomed to hard work and an exemplary frugality. The coast and the port of Monaco most probably provided sea access for the interior Ligurian population, the Oratelli of Peille.
The origin of the name “Monaco“ has been subject to several hypotheses. For some, the name comes from the Ligurian tribe, the Monoïkos, who inhabited the Rock in 6th century B.C. For others, it’s Greek in origin. Indeed, the port of Monaco was allegedly named after Herakles (Hercules).
Initially inhabited by the Greeks in 6 BC, who named it Monoikos, Hercules allegedly visited and a temple was built in his honour. At the end of 12th century B.C., the Romans occupied the region and Monaco became part of the Province of the Maritime Alps. During their occupation, the Romans erected the Trophy of Augustus at La Turbie which celebrates the triumph of their military campaigns.
During this same period, Phoenecian and Carthaginian sailors brought prosperity to the region. After the fall of the Roman Empire (5th century A.D.), the region was regularly sacked by different barbarian populations. It was only at the end of the 10th century, after the expulsion of the Sarrasins by the Count of Provence, that the coast slowly became repopulated. In 1191, Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI granted sovereignty over the area to the city of Genoa, the native home of the Ligurians.
On 10 June 1215, a detachment of Genoese Ghibellines led by Fulco del Cassello began the construction of a fortress atop the Rock of Monaco. As the Ghibellines intended their fortress to be a strategic military stronghold and centre of control for the area, they set about creating a settlement around the base of the Rock to support the garrison; in an attempt to lure residents from Genoa and the surrounding cities, they offered land grants and tax exemption to new settlers.
Monaco then became the object of the ongoing struggle between the two parties disputing power in the Republic of Genoa, the Ghibellines, partisans of the Emperor and the Guelfs, faithful followers of the Pope. In 1269 The Guelfs and their allies, the Grimaldis, were expelled from Genoa.
The Grimaldis, descended from Otto Canella and taking their name from his son Grimaldo, were an ancient and prominent Genoese family. Disguised as a franciscan monk, Francesco Grimaldi seized the Rock of Monaco in 1297, starting the Grimaldi dynasty, under the sovereignty of the Republic of Genoa.
The Grimaldis acquired Menton in 1346 and Roquebrune in 1355, thereby enlarging their possessions. In 1338 Monegasque ships under the command of Carlo Grimaldi participated, along with those of France and Genoa, in the English Channel naval campaign. Plunder from the sack of Southampton was brought back to Monaco, contributing to the principality’s prosperity.
Honoré II, Prince of Monaco secured recognition of his independent sovereignty from Spain in 1633, and then from Louis XIII of France by the Treaty of Péronne (1641). Since then the area has remained under the control of the Grimaldi family to the present day, except when under French control during the French revolution from 1793 to May 1814, as part of the département of Alpes-Maritimes.
The principality was re-established in 1814, only to be designated a protectorate of the Kingdom of Sardinia by the Congress of Vienna in 1815. Monaco remained in this position until 1860, when by the Treaty of Turin, Sardinia ceded to France the surrounding county of Nice.
With the protectorate, that lasted nearly half a century, Italian was the official language of Monaco. The Monégasque dialect, like that of the Niçois, is closer to Italian than French, but influenced by both.
During this time there was unrest in the towns of Menton and Roquebrune, which declared independence, hoping for annexation by Sardinia and participation in the Italian Risorgimento. The unrest continued until the ruling prince gave up his claim to the two towns (some 95% of the country), and they were ceded to France in return for four million francs which helped to fund Monaco’s regeneration. This transfer and Monaco’s sovereignty was recognised by the Franco-Monegasque Treaty of 1861.
The Prince of Monaco was an absolute ruler until the Monegasque Revolution of 1910 forced him to proclaim a constitution in 1911.
In July 1918, a treaty was signed providing for limited French protection over Monaco. The treaty, written into the Treaty of Versailles, established that Monegasque policy would be aligned with French political, military, and economic interests. One of the motivations for the treaty was the upcoming Monaco Succession Crisis of 1918.
While Prince Louis II’s sympathies were strongly pro-French, he tried to keep Monaco neutral during World War II but supported the Vichy French government of his old army colleague, Marshal Philippe Pétain.
Nonetheless, his tiny principality was tormented by domestic conflict partly as a result of Louis’s indecisiveness, and also because the majority of the population was of Italian descent; many of them supported the fascist regime of Italy’s Benito Mussolini.
In November 1942, the Italian Army invaded and occupied Monaco. Soon after in September 1943, following Mussolini’s fall in Italy, the German Army occupied Monaco and began the deportation of the Jewish population.
Under Prince Louis’s secret orders, the Monaco police, often at great risk to themselves, warned in advance those people whom the Gestapo planned to arrest. The country was liberated, as German troops retreated, on 3 September 1944.
The revised Constitution of Monaco, proclaimed in 1962, abolished capital punishment, provided for female suffrage, established a Supreme Court to guarantee fundamental liberties and made it well nigh impossible for a French national to transfer his or her residence there.
In 2002, a new treaty between France and Monaco clarified that if there were no heirs to carry on the dynasty, the Principality would remain an independent nation, rather than be annexed by France. Monaco’s military defense, however, is still the responsibility of France.
The current ruler, Prince Albert II, succeeded his father Prince Rainier III in 2005. Prince Rainier, in turn, had acceded to the throne following the death of his grandfather, Prince Louis II, in 1949. But, let’s leave the Grimaldi’s for another post.