Monte Carlo History

MONTE CARLO, MONACO - NOVEMBER 18: General view of the Palace of Monaco during the National Day and Prince Albert II's enthronement ceremonies on November 18, 2005 in Monte Carlo, Monaco. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)Monte Carlo is one of four principalities of the small country of Monaco which has an interesting beginning that dates back over 700 years. A clue to this history can be gleaned from Monaco’s coat of arms, which shows two monks brandishing swords.

One night in 1297, Francois Grimaldi – a member of the then politically powerful Genoese Grimaldi family – disguised himself as a monk and led a small army to capture a fortress in Monaco from an Italian force. Francois Grimaldi lost his hold on Monaco in 1301, but the family managed to regain control of Monaco thirty years later, under the leadership of Charles Grimaldi.

Monaco’s location proved to be invaluable for European trade and military expeditions. Lord Honore II came to the throne in 1604 and, after amassing substantial wealth and influence, declared himself worthy of a new title. He claimed the title Prince Honore II. Since then, “Prince” is the title that the reigning Grimaldi has retained.

Prince Florestan I, who ruled until 1856, made gambling legal in Monaco from 1854. Two years later, the first Monte Carlo casino was opened near the harbour.

Monaco was annexed to France during the French revolution, but the Grimaldis came back into power after the fall of Napoleon. Monaco’s independence, however, was not restored until the Franco-Monegasque treaty of 1861. This independence, though, came at a high price, with a tract of land equal to about half of Monaco’s original territory surrendered to the French. Having lost considerable revenue, Monaco’s rulers had to look for a way to protect their way of life. It was partly this that inspired Charles III and his mother Princess Caroline to authorize construction of the now famous Monte Carlo Casino in 1858. The doors of the casino opened in 1863, and Monte Carlo never looked back.

In 1918, Monaco signed a treaty with France stating that if Prince Rainier failed to produce a male heir, Monaco would revert to France. This treaty has caused some worry in the history of Monaco! However, it has now been revised to allow for a female heir.

One of the most celebrated weddings of the twentieth century was that of award-winning American actress Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier III. Grace Kelly starred in many popular films, among them masterpieces from Alfred Hitchcock such as “Dial M for Murder” and “Rear Window.” In 1956, more than 20,000 people lined the streets of Monaco to watch the wedding procession and to catch a glimpse of the future princess.

Prince Rainier III celebrated his 50th anniversary as prince in 1999. He died in 2005, and has been succeeded by his son Albert.