Monaco

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Monaco

This principality is a sovereign state of only 8 square miles. It consists of Monaco (the old town, perched on Le Rocher), Monte Carlo (where the casino is located, developed between the late 19th and early 20th centuries and since then expanded), La Condamine (which links them) and Fontvieille (the newest section, named after the Provençal village of Fontvieille of Daudet fame). In the 19th century, the stones used for the building of Monte Carlo were imported from Fontvieille quarries. The native Monegasques pay no income taxes and are exempt from military service. Monaco is home to one of the world's great automobile races, the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix. But outside that annual racing weekend, pedestrians rule. Put just a toe on a road crossing and Monaco's impeccably polite drivers — even the many who glide around in Ferraris, Rolls-Royces and other luxury cars — invariably stop and wait, engines purring, for those on foot to saunter across.

While the tiny territory is best known as a haven for the famous and mega-rich, with sumptuous casinos, a royal family, discreet bankers and luxury boutiques, you don't have to be a millionaire to visit. In fact, one of the most fun things about Monaco is seeing how the other half lives. If you've ever wanted to glimpse millionaire lifestyles, this is the place. Marvel at the luxury yachts neatly moored in Monaco's main port. Some are so big they have helicopters on their top decks. On summer nights, their owners have candlelight, waiter-served dinner parties on board.

Because Monaco is so compact — just 486 acres, smaller than New York's Central Park — it's easy to get around on foot. Walking the whole coastline, just 2½ miles, requires a couple of hours, at most.

HISTORY

The family history has been rather turbulent. Back in the 13th and 14th centuries, the waning power of the pro-papal faction known as the Guelphs (Welfen) caused them to flee from Genoa and seize the fortress at Monaco. In this way, Charles I became the Seigneur of Monaco. Towards the end of the 15th century, Monaco was accepted as an independent principality. In the 16th century, Jean II, however, was killed by his brother Lucien, who in turn was murdered by his nephew. Fraught by political conflicts, Honore I was thrown into the sea by his subjects in 1604. At first suffering under the foreign occupation by the Spaniards from 1524 to 1641, the Grimaldis were finally re-installed by the King of Spain and the title Prince conferred on them. The French also occupied the little territory, and during the re-arrangement of all borders in Vienna in 1815 (after the defeat of Napoleon), Monaco passed under the protection of the Kingdom of Sardinia. Menton and Roquebrune, which belonged to the Principality, were bought in 1861 by Napoleon III at the time of the annexation of Nice.

Nowadays, though an independent Principality, a Customs Treaty with France has been entered into (1912), which was replaced by the Conventions of 1951 and 1963, and a Convention with regard to the money system was finalized in 1945. Since that time, Monaco has had its own coins, but they are now Euros and are interchangeable with those found elsewhere in Europe. The language spoken is French, even though the Monegasques (mainly the locals of ancient extraction) speak a local variation of Italian.

PLACES OF INTEREST

Prince's Palace  The palace is perched on a hill, offering views of Monaco and the French and Italian coasts beyond. Every day at 11:55am sharp, royal guards parade onto the palace's front square, some with swords drawn, others shouldering rifles with bayonets. To the beat of drums and blowing trumpets, the guard changes and they march off as the palace clock strikes midday. They wear black uniforms in winter and white in summer. The oldest part of the Palace, which is gray in color, dates from the 13th century, while the other parts, in which the family actually lives, were added in the 15th and 16th centuries. On the square's west side is an enchanting children's playground, shaded by pine trees and perched on the edge of a cliff covered with tenacious cacti. It overlooks the Mediterranean, with moored luxury yachts and mewing seagulls wheeling below.

The square in front of the Palace (Place du Palais) is ornamented with cannons given to the Prince of Monaco by Louis XIV. The situation of the Palace is, of course, outstanding in that it overlooks the indented coastline east and west of Monaco.

As everyone knows, the ruling Prince is Rainier III, born in 1923, and married to the late Grace Kelly on April 19, 1956. Their oldest son is Prince Albert-Louis Alexandre, born in Monaco in 1958 and there are two daughters, Princesses Caroline and Stephanie.

The Cathedral  The Cathedral is built of white local stone and topped with statues of a winged bull and a winged lion. Princess Grace, the movie star Grace Kelly before she married Monaco's Prince Rainier III, is buried here. She died in 1982 from injuries in a car crash. Her tomb is marked by a simple white marble slab. A bone said to be from St. Devote, Monaco's patron saint, is housed in a golden, glass-enclosed case in one of the Cathedral's arched alcoves. "Virgin and martyr" says a plaque to the saint. Houses in Monaco's old quarter around the cathedral are painted warm beiges, yellows and pinks; their shutters are a tasteful green or off-white. In the exotic garden in front of the cathedral, small signs label plants brought in from all over the world: a cherry laurel from Japan, cacti from the Canaries and big-leafed Indian elephant ears — which look like their name sounds. The garden is dotted with benches tucked into quiet niches — perfect for whiling away an afternoon looking out to sea.

The Casino of Monte Carlo  This casino is surrounded by beautiful gardens and stands on a fine terrace from which the view stretches from Monaco to the Bordighere headland (in Italy). The building is comprised of several different sections: the oldest (to the west) built in 1878 by Charles Garnier, architect of the Paris Opera House, faces the sea; the most recent dates from 1910. As one enters the huge central hall, the theater is in front and the sumptuously decorated gambling room, on the left. To the right of the casino is one of the top palace hotels in the world, the Hotel de Paris.

The magnificent gaming halls' walls and ceilings are decorated with carvings and paintings. The atmosphere is hushed, but thrilling. Kings, princes, writers and industrialists have gambled here. "Faites vous jeux" ("Lay your bets"), croupiers announce as they spin the roulette wheel. Then, as the ball rattles to a stop, they declare: "Rien ne va plus!" That means "no more bets". You don't have to play. Merely studying the faces pulled by sweaty palmed gamblers winning or losing is enjoyable. So, too, is watching the dexterous ballet of croupiers dishing out and raking in chips with lightning-quick flicks of the wrist. The casino requires that visitors dress decently, be over 21 and show identification — a passport will do.

Musée Océanographique  Founded in 1910 by Prince Albert I, the Oceanographic was directed by Jacques Cousteau until the late 1980s. Besides a large aquarium of colorful fish and sea life, many of them rare species, and the museum houses several galleries, including one displaying the skeleton of a 60-yard-long whale. A modern research laboratory, where Cousteau worked, takes up the lower floors.

Train and bus stations in Monaco  The train station in Monaco is located on Avenue Prince Pierre, tel. 04 36 35 35 35. The information desk is open daily 9am-7pm.

Buses to Nice leave from Avenue de la Costa, near Boulevard des Moulins, and in front of the tourist office. Buses to Menton leave from Place des Moulins. For information, tel. 04 93 85 6181 or contact the tourist office.

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