It was 150 years ago exactly to this May 2020 when on May 31, 1870, Prince Charles III created the College of Monaco on the Rock, its very first. This establishment, first taught by Jesuits, will become the current Lycée Albert I which he started in the former convent of the Visitation. The current Chapel of the Visitation stands testimony to it.
How times change. Even the coronavirus pandemic can’t wipe out the image and the reality of a prosperous Principality – one that remains the envy of Europe and the world. Who would not want to live in the Monaco of today, if they had the chance. However, it wasn’t always so. And even today, perhaps it comes a surprise to discover that the opening of a school by Prince Charles III was one of the key catalysts that ushered in the age of prosperity for Monaco.
It remains true that the Casino created a wave of cash that funded the momentum that helped transform a Principality that had been diminished by the loss of Menton and Roquebrune. But Charles III’s vision was that he needed a fine high school to attract aristocratic ultra-wealthy residents who otherwise, needing to be assured of a quality education for their children, would choose to settle elsewhere.
And so Albert I school was part of the prosperous march forward that also included the Hotel de Paris, the Opera and the Casino within the new Monte Carlo district itself, not to mention the Cathedral and the train.
The convent was created in the 1600s for young ladies of good pedigree by Princess Charlotte of Gramont, wife of Prince Louis – also reknowned for being the “fascination” of the Sun King of France Louis XIV.
Prince Charles III envisaged the Principality being inhabited by families belonging to the high aristocracy of Europe and indeed all nations. The magnet would be first-rate instruction for their children together with the benefits of living in a mild climate. And so foreign students and their families founded a new source of prosperity for the Principality.
Schools had existed before, of course, but not a fine college. There are horror stories of corporal punishment and an unsavoury environment that make the College of Monaco, now the Lycee Albert I, made a public high school in 1910, a relative paradise.
Stories are still being uncovered from the 1800s of children arriving so filthy that a fountain with sponges had to be installed so that unclean children could be washed. And reminiscent of today’s Coronavirus threat it was recommended to wash your hands every hour between lessons.
And discipline was severe in Monaco in the middle of the 19th century. In 1858, there was a teacher Father Dufan, who was reportedly as expert at wielding the whip as well as he was at teaching grammar. Reports exist of a pupil Sébastien Gioan being seen on Sunday after a service, playing the cello at the “Bal du moulin”. The pupil was subjected to corporal punishment and was expelled by the teacher. There was a happy ending as, after an appeal, the student was reinstated.