Albert I and Rainier III knew very well that the principal task in the development of foreign connections was to create formal diplomatic channels, important elements of which were official visits. After gaining its independence in 1861, Monaco began to assert itself as a separate state and demonstrate its geo-significance. As a result, the princedom turned its attention toward laying the groundwork for official receptions of the leaders of the French Republic. HelloMonaco will describe for you how those presidential visits unfolded over the course of a century, and what was fascinating or curious about each of them.
In 1896, Félix Faure became the first president of the French republic who arrived in the Principality. For several centuries, before Monaco gained full independence, the rulers of the French State typically did not appear in Monaco either.
Prince Albert I organizes a magnificent reception for his French “ally” and patron Felix Faure. The President of France will be solemnly received by the head of the government of Monaco, who will formally award the President of France with the Great Cross of the Order of Saint Charles. At that time protocol demanded that the visit of the President of France be preceded by the visit of the Prince of Monaco to the Prefecture of the region, where the head of the French State would leave his motorcade, after which he would be escorted by 250 cavalrymen and 250 squires to the Prince’s palace.
The curious fact is that only 50 cavalrymen were able to take part in the parade in the Prince’s court. After all, this was the maximum weight which the arches of the reservoirs of water could withhold, as they were located right under the ceremony.
On the occasion of the official visit, Prince Louis II of Monaco, who at that time was a young lieutenant, received the military title “La Croix de Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur” from the visiting President of the French Republic. The triumphal celebratory march took place on the streets of the princedom and in the courtyard of the Palace. It is important to note that all the streets of the Principality were safeguarded by firefighters and police, as ten thousand people went on the streets of the city in order to greet Felix Faure in Monaco.
Despite the fact that this visit was official, Albert I managed to deepen personal relations with the President; important in that with social conflict on the rise in Europe and with the political scandal in France over the Dreyfus affair, it needed rulers of wisdom who could muster support for the necessary reforms. Indeed reforms were undertaken in the Third French Republic from 1894 to 1906. At this time, the Prince stood up in defense of the accused Captain Dreyfus. In the Elysee Palace, on a diplomatic visit to Paris, Albert I tried to persuade Felix Faure in the innocence of Dreyfus, giving him special documents.
In 1909 Armand Fallières, President of France from 1906 to 1913, arrives in Monaco accompanied by Prime Minister Georges Benjamin Clemenceau and General Picard, who was the main participant in the tumultuous ordeal of the Dreyfus case. The French press, in particular, was very interested in this visit to Monaco. It should be noted that the period prior to the First World War, was called the “Epoch of the Press”. Fallières’s visit was illustrated in the weekly “L’assiette au beurre” in the form of a caricature. It is an interesting fact, that Armand Fallières was himself involved in the cultural life of Nice, where he laid the first stone during the reconstruction of the Great Lyceum in 1909.
Also, it is noticeable that a curious thread runs through all these presidential visits to Monaco; they have one unchanging tradition, visiting the Oceanographic Museum, the “second palace” as it were of the prince-sailor Albert I. It is a unique “palace”, one that is entirely devoted to science.
In the spring of 1920 Paul Deschanel, president of France for a relatively short period (from February to September 1920) comes to the Principality. This happens about a month and a half before the famous incident with the train to Montargis, when the 65-year-old President, distracted by his own thoughts, falls out of the window, but survived. After the incident, Deschanel reached the railway station, where he was confused with being a drunkard. This slightly “insane” ruler of the State, with his eccentric and sometimes outrageous behavior, became the principal subject of conversation of eloquent story-tellers in France. Despite this, in the short time of his reign, he became the only state leader who opposed the death penalty.
Returning to the visit, it is important to mention that this happened in the last years of the reign of Albert I. The President was received with all honours in Monaco, and he was personally presented to Princess Charlotte Grimaldi, the daughter of Prince Louis. The French Riviera has always been a favorite place to visit for French Presidents; Paul de Chanel, for example, liked to stay at the Hôtel du Cap Ferrat, which is located not far from Monaco.
In January 1957, René Coty, the President of the French Republic, arrives on an official visit to Monaco for a private dinner with the princely couple. It is a curious fact that it was Coty who became the originator of the tradition of the appearance of French presidents in cars produced in France. So, in 1954, René Coty was the first French President to arrive at his inauguration ceremony in a Citroën.
Charles De Gaulle
In 1960, President, Charles de Gaulle confirmed he would make official visit to Monaco. Ten days before, Prince Rainier III appointed a new adviser, a diplomat of American origin. General de Gaulle was known for his hidden “anti-Americanism”. It is not surprising, therefore, that the president did not come to the Principality in the most exalted mood. It is possible that this visit, on the contrary to being a diplomatic success, served to heat up the Franco-Monegasque crisis in 1962. As per tradition though, Charles de Gaulle did pay a visit to the Oceanographic Museum. But the President of the Republic did not ingratiate himself with the inhabitants of the dwarf state as his somber mood was evident and cast a cloud over what could otherwise have been an occasion of mutual celebration.
After the visit of Charles de Gaulle in 1960, there was a lull in the visits of the leaders of the French Republic and the cooling of diplomatic relations between the countries. The first to arrive on a state visit was François Miterrand, who stayed in Monaco for 2 days (19-20 January) in 1984. Miterrand was holding the highest state post from 1981 to 1995. Among the agreements concluded during the visit, the main issue concerned the permission of Tele Monte Carlo to increase its broadcasting range by installing a radio transmitter near Marseille. In addition, the president contributed to the discussion on a planned expansion and a redefinition of the territorial waters of Monaco. During the event, the president walked around the Fontvieille district, and even visited the grave of Princess Grace in the morning of January 20.
Moreover, the head of the French state stayed in the Prince’s Palace during his visit. Not without a reason; a close relationship with the princely family began in 1956, during one of the most high-profile events of the 50’s, the wedding of Prince Rainier III and the icon of all time, Grace Kelly. Then, Francois Mitterrand, who was Minister of Justice of the Cabinet of Guy Mollet, a French politician and statesman, was elected as the official representative of France for the ceremony. More than 40 diplomats were present at the celebration.
Later, in 1997, Jacques Chirac arrived in Monaco on a presidential visit for the 700th anniversary of the Grimaldi dynasty. The reception was held with all honors, starting with a parade of the Monegasque army and ending with a gala dinner. Moreover, Jacques Chirac also received from Prince Rainier III a special book about the Grimaldi dynasty and an album of stamps of “heads of state”.
Eleven years later, in 2008, the 23rd President of the French Republic (2007 -2012) Nicolas Sarkozy appeared in Monaco on his first official visit. Albert II cordially hosted the president. It’s important to remark, that the heads of both states positioned themselves as protectors of the environment. That is why, during the visit they proposed to turn the Mediterranean into the “cleanest sea in the world” and work to protect the North Pole. They also warned of global warming at the poles and charted a course for the sustainable development of the Mediterranean.
The last president to visit the principality was François Hollande, head of the French Republic in 2012-2017. In November 2013, Francois Hollande accompanied by Prince Albert II visited the Monegasque manufacturer of Venturi cars. It is curious to note that François Hollande became the first president after Deschanel who did not hold any ministerial posts until his election as head of state.