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Monte Carlo, Monaco - Mediterranean Port of Call on the Riviera

History of the Principality of Monaco


Monaco, Monte Carlo, night, elevated view
Jeremy Woodhouse/Digital Vision/Getty Images Monte Carlo Yacht Club

Monte Carlo, Monaco is home to some luxurious yacts

Monte Carlo Photo © Linda Garrison Monte Carlo, Monaco Prince's Palace

The Prince's Palace at Monte Carlo, Monaco

Monte Carlo Photo © Linda Garrison

Monte Carlo, in the principality of Monaco, is a favorite port of call for many cruise visitors to the Mediterranean. Monte Carlo is tiny (only three kilometers long--less than two miles) and sits on a large rock named Mont Des Mules overlooking the sea. A road separates Monaco from France, and you hardly realize it when you are moving between the two countries. There are about 30,000 residents of Monaco, of which the citizens, called Monegasques, make up about 25 per cent of the total populace.

During 2003, Monte Carlo completed a new cruise ship pier in the harbor at Monte Carlo. This new pier makes it easier to visit this exciting Mediterranean port for the thousands of cruise lovers whose ships include Monaco as a port of call.

I always thought that because of its small size, Monte Carlo and Monaco were synonymous. Most of us certainly use the terms so! There are actually several different areas in Monaco. The old town of Monaco-Ville surrounds the palace on the southwest side of the Monaco harbor. To the west of Monaco-Ville is the new suburb, harbor, and marina of Fontvieille. On the other side of the rock and around the harbor is La Condamine. The resort of Larvotto with its imported sandy beaches is on the east, and Monte Carlo is in the middle of it all.

The history of the ruling Grimaldi family and the surrounding area is fascinating and dates back centuries. The port of Monaco is first mentioned in the records back in 43 BC, when Caesar concentrated his fleet there while waiting in vain for Pompey. In the 12th century, Genoa was granted sovereignty of the entire coastline from Porto Venere to Monaco. After years of struggle, the Grimaldis captured the rock in 1295, but they had to continually defend it from the surrounding warring factions. In 1506 the Monegasques, under Luciano Grimaldi, withstood a four month long siege by a Genoan army ten times their size. (Sounds like a made-for-TV movie in the making or the Monaco version of the Alamo!) Although Monaco officially received full autonomy in 1524, it struggled to remain independent, and at various times was under the influence of Spain, Sardinia, and France.

The Grimaldi family is still a very visible royal family. Those of us who loved Grace Kelly and are fascinated by "royals" know this family well. You don't even have to be a reader of the tabloids to know about the Grimaldis. Monaco's aging leader, Prince Ranier, is one of the few autocratic royal leaders left in the world. The relationship between Monaco and France is an interesting one. Any new law passed in France is automatically sent to Prince Ranier. If he likes it, it becomes a law in Monaco. If not, it doesn't! (Sounds kind of like the relationship I have with my husband sometimes--I can make all the rules I want, but he ignores any that don't suit him!)

The look of Monaco is enough to make you want to stay awhile. The view coming into the sheltered harbor is spectacular. The city is spread out over the rock and into the sea. Because of the limited space, some of the buildings are even constructed right over the water. The streets of the city practically ooze money. Expensive cars and limousines are everywhere. Monte Carlo is definitely a place where the "rich and famous" journey to see and to be seen.

Gambling and the tourism associated with it has been the primary livelihood of the city for more than a century. If you're not a gambler, don't let that keep you from traveling to Monaco. However, even with only one day in port, I found there were many other interesting shore activities in Monte Carlo and the surrounding areas.


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