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History of Monaco: from the ancient times to Prince Albert II

The earliest references to Monaco appeared in early Ancient times, when ‘the Rock’ and its natural harbour served as a refuge for local tribes and sailors coming from the East. In the 6th century BC, a Ligurian tribe named Monoikos occupied ‘the Rock,’ which is probably the origin of the name “Monaco”.

During its history, the place saw Roman and Barbarian invasions ravaging the region. But the history of Monaco as a ruled territory began in 1297, when Genovese Francesco Grimaldi “the Cunning” captured the Rock of Monaco. Dressed as a monk, he entered Monaco’s castle with swords hidden under his clothes and then seized the fortress with his cousin, Rainier I. This event is commemorated nowadays on the Monegasque coat of arms where you can see two monks holding their swords. On the square in front of the Prince’s Palace there is a monument to the first of the Grimaldi dynasty.

In the middle of the 19th century, Monaco was about to go bankrupt. Nobody knew what would have happened next, but the royal family offered a job to an outstanding French entrepreneur François Blanc, also known as “The magician of Homburg” for the success of the casino he had run there. In cooperation with the ruling family, he created La Société des Bains de Mer (SBM) in 1863 and became a majority shareholder of the company. Together with his wife, Marie Blanc, François set out to build more than just a gambling house, he intended to create a world of luxury never before seen. Today, SBM owns all the casinos and best hotels, and restaurants in Monaco.

Toward the end of the 1870s, the casino was finished by Charles Garnier, the famous architect of the Paris Opera house, Palais Garnier. The luxurious Hotel de Paris was built next to the Casino, and became a part of that “gold mine” which was supposed to save the House of Grimaldi from bankruptcy. Blanc used his connections to build a railway into Monaco and generously thanked international newspapers for promoting his new business.

Soon after this massive reconstruction, Monaco became a new destination for European elite, and the revenues of the Principality started increasing. In 1869, the success of the Casino made it possible for the Princely family to stop collecting income tax from the residents of the Principality.

The image of Monaco as glamorous and luxurious became even stronger when Prince Rainier III married the Hollywood star, Grace Kelly. They met during her visit to the Cannes Film Festival in 1955. This story was like a fairytale, but had nothing in common with “Cinderella” as Grace’s dowry was estimated at 2,000,000 dollars. But the new role of Kelly as the Princess of Monaco changed the life of the young actress. Grace Kelly had to give up her thriving career in Hollywood and she gave birth to three children: Caroline, Stephanie and Albert who succeeded his father in 2005. After 27 years of marriage, Princess Grace of Monaco died in a car accident in the hills above the city.

In 2011, the reigning monarch, Prince Albert II married miss Charlene Wittstock, a former Olympic swimmer for South Africa. The couple has two children: Gabriella and Jacques.

Source: Direction of Office of Tourism and Convention of Monaco

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