For over seven hundred years Monaco has been ruled by the Grimaldi family. In fact they celebrated the 700th anniversary of their reign in 1997. The Grimaldi rule began in 1297 when the fortress of Monaco was under the control of an Italian faction and Francois Grimaldi disguised himself as a monk and led a small army into the fortress. He successfully seized the fortress of Monaco and, in the name of the Pope, reclaimed Monaco. The two monks brandishing swords on the Monaco coat of arms symbolizes Francois Grimaldi’s daring victory.
The next few hundred years were good for Monaco and they became a significant port in major maritime trading routes, which allowed for a prosperous principality until 1604 when Lord Honore II took the throne and made things go from good to great. During the reign of Lord Honore II, the title of Prince was established to signify all that he had done for Monaco leading them into what was known as the “Great Century” due to the many accomplishments of Monaco.
Eventually the French Revolution did catch up with the Grimaldi family and France annexed Monaco, with members of the Monegasque royal family going to prison. Fortunately the Grimaldi’s were restored to power before too long and, in 1814, the annexation ended. However, in 1861 half of Monaco’s territory was taken by France in return for Monaco’s continued independence. Realizing that many of their natural resources were gone now after relinquishing half of their land, Prince Charles III determined that a new economic base was needed to provide Monaco with a stable and prosperous future. In 1863, he formed a company that would focus on tourism and gambling called the Societe des Bains de Mer. They purchased a few hotels, a casino, and a theater, a short distance from each other in what would later become the flourishing district of Monte-Carlo. By 1949, Monte-Carlo had become a world-renowned city of flash and fun, putting Monaco on the top of many people’s lists to visit. Prince Rainier III acceded to the throne and became an even bigger attention getter from the world than Monte-Carlo with his fairytale romance and marriage to movie star Grace Kelly.
This colourful and historically rich principality found on the Mediterranean Sea, near both the French and Italian Rivera, is less than one square mile. Ruled by a constitutional monarchy and led by H.S.H. Prince Albert, who succeeded his father Prince Rainier III, Monaco has survived an epic history that reads much like a fairy tale, complete with amazing castles, heroic battles and even a movie star princess. The breath taking landscape of the small area is enjoyed for its beauty from many tourists throughout the year and by the 32,020 residents of Monaco, of which only 6,089 are actually Monegasque citizens with the remaining people being Italian and French.
French, English and Italian are all common languages to Monaco and many residents speak all three fluently, although it is not difficult to manage if you only speak one of them. Money is easily handled with the Euro currency, which is common among most of the Mediterranean tourist areas.
Monaco is almost in a constant state of celebration with events occurring throughout the year. Some of the more famous ones are: the International Circus Festival in January, the Monte-Carlo Television Festival in February, the World Music Awards in March, the Monte-Carlo Spring Arts Festival that runs April through May and the Monte-Carlo International Tennis Championships in April. In May, there are the Monaco Formula 1 Grand Prix and the Laureus World Sports Awards. There is the International Fireworks Festival that runs July through August, the Red Cross Ball in August and the Monaco Yacht Show in September. Those are just some of the regularly occurring events that happen throughout the year in this exciting place and, of course, there are operas, ballets and concerts that also take place throughout the year. Some of the long-standing traditions of Monaco also involve celebrations for visitors to join in when they are visiting during one of those special occasions that mark the social, cultural and moral heritage of the Monegasques principality.
Saint Devote is celebrated on January 27, although the special events take place before, after and on this day. This holiday was created to honour a woman believed to be a Saint from centuries ago. Devote had promised to serve God as the main purpose in her life and during her time a cruel governor who persecuted Christians was the leader of the once Roman province where she lived. She was arrested and sent to prison where she was tortured and eventually died, never denying her faith or retracting her words of God’s love. Those who admired her bravery and faith attempted to save her body from the fate the cruel governor had planned, and tried to sail away with it. However a storm wrecked boat. The corpse ended floating back to those waiting for survivors from the boat, and the locals thought it a miracle. Devote’s corpse ended up in Monaco where it was treasured and kept safe, despite attempts to steal it for its alleged miraculous powers. The saint is celebrated today with symbolic gestures from the past and fireworks.
Carnival takes place in Monaco during February and March and is a tradition that dates back to the fifteenth century marking the period between Sunday of Epiphany and Ash Wednesday. It was intended to be the time for people to let off some steam and rid themselves of temptations before the arduous period of Lent. Colorful costumes were worn to disguise yourself from being recognized while you danced, acted silly and even fought to some extent. Today many of the local hotels or resorts recreate a Carnival theme to parties throughout the summer months to give tourists a taste of this wild tradition.
There are also the Holy Week Processions during March and April, Saint John’s Day on June 24, Saint Roman on August 9, the Monegasque National holiday on November 19 and the Monegasque Christmas celebration on December 25.
The weather is another fabulous reason to spend time in Monaco as even during the winter months the coolest temperatures are rarely below 10 degrees Centigrade and the warmest temperatures during the height of summer rarely passes the low 30s Centigrade. The sun almost never stops shining on this glorious paradise by the sea, with over three hundred days of sunshine every year, you want to make sure not to forget your sunglasses (and in Monaco, the more design the better). Fall is a beautiful time to visit with temperatures in the sixties to seventies people still tan themselves on the beach, while throwing a glamorous wrap on in the evening when the cooler sea air breezes in.
Getting around in Monaco is not much of a problem as most things are quite close to each other since the entire principality is only three quarters of a square mile in total size. Walking is easy to do and there are also several elevators that connect different areas together. By simply hopping into an elevator you can be in an entirely different part of Monaco. Of course, there are taxis as well and they do operate around the clock, but again unless you are going from one complete end to the other and are really tired or wearing some killer high heels, you should be able to get where you need to go with out the additional expense of a taxi or car. Monaco is a short drive from the Nice airport and is also in close proximity to many other attractions that may be of interest to a tourist who wants to see other parts of France and Italy.
Monaco offers the amazing and glamorous experience of Monte-Carlo to its visitors, which is set in a surreal spot between the deep blues of the Mediterranean Sea and the white snow capped mountains of the Alps. The luxurious Monte-Carlo casino is lit like a fairy tale castle is imagined to be, a perpetual show-room of super-cars casually parked in front, surrounded by five star hotels and Michelin starred restaurants.
If you are looking for alternatives to the Monte-Carlo Casino do not be concerned, as there are many options for entertainment in Monaco besides the casino. The Fort Antoine Theater offers many concerts throughout the summer months in this fabulous outdoor theater created from an early XVIII century fortress. Even if you are not able to catch a show at the theater, it is definitely worth the trip to at least see this is marvelous old structure. Louis II Stadium is an enormous sports complex that was built to house the many sporting event competitions that are held in Monaco every year. They are open every day and guided tours are available throughout the week for a small fee, check with the stadium when you arrive in town for specific information. The Oceanographic Museum and Aquarium is open every day and there is a fee for the two to three hour visit to this outstanding museum that was founded in 1910 and is considered to be an architectural masterpiece along with an amazing scientific experience. Many species of both flora and fauna unique to Monaco and the Mediterranean area are on exhibit for visitors to gain a deeper knowledge of the environment. In addition to these wonderful attractions, there are several gardens that provide a pleasantly peaceful place to rest or eat a quiet snack. There are the Casino Gardens and Terraces, the Exotic Garden, Observatory Caves, Fontvieille Park and Princess Grace Rose Garden to name a few. Other museums include the Exhibition of H.S.H The Prince of Monaco’s Private Collection of Classic Cars, Musuem of the Chapel of Visitatin, Museum of Napoleonic Souvenirs and Collection of the Palace’s Historic Archives, Musuem of Prehistoric Anthropology, National Musuem: Automatons and Dolls of Yesteryear and the Wax Museum of the Princes of Monaco. There are also several choices for royal and historic sites including different churches.
Clearly, there are many reasons that visiting Monaco would be a unique and fascinating experience, one that most people would be sure to enjoy. The cultural and historical heritage alone creates a wonderfully romantic vision of fairytale castles and princess movie stars. Combine that with the fast-paced, high-rolling glamorous scene of Monte-Carlo and Monaco is definitely a winner.