April 27, 2022. 64°F/18°C
Monaco is the world’s second smallest sovereign state (Vatican City being the smallest), and we were due for a relaxing day, so we opted for a “small” experience – just to be guided around the oldest quarter of Monaco (“the rock”) and then take it easy.
It was really interesting to stand in the harbour and be able to see both France and Italy, because the entire principality of Monaco is only 2.1 square km (0.81 sq mi) in total area. That does make it crowded though; it is the most densely populated country in the world despite having only 39,000 citizens. We learned that, since it is prohibitively expensive to live here, the additional 30,000 plus people who work here almost all commute daily from France. Only about 25% of the people who live here are native Monégasque; the rest have moved here to take advantage of the financial haven.
According to BusinessInsider, in 2019 thirty-two per cent of Monaco’s population of were millionaires, nearly 3,000 were multimillionaires, and at least half a dozen billionaires called Monaco home. That might explain the fact that helicopters fly in and out of the residential area with the frequency of Ubers in other cities.
Our guide told us that in the 1800’s Monaco was a poor country, but Prince Charles III granted a charter in 1856 for the first casino, built a rail line to Paris, and created a tax haven that spurred huge economic growth and created a vigorous banking industry. The rest, as they say, is history. It was only after the casino was built that the area around it was named Monte Carlo.
On “The Rock” is the impressive Monaco Oceanographic Museum, which houses the Mediterranean Science Commission. Prince Albert I was a pioneer in ocean exploration, and founded the museum in 1910. It includes exhibits, aquaria, and research facilities.
Jacques Cousteau was the director from 1957 to 1988, and his 2-person submarine, used to research red coral in the Mediterranean, sits outside the main entrance.
Related to the Grimaldi family’s strong interest in ocean preservation, we noticed that all storm sewer grates in Monaco are marked with “the sea starts here”, as a reminder not to drop pollutants into the sewers.
The House of Grimaldi has ruled here since 1297. Our guide pointed out the royal crest on several buildings, which shows two figures clad in monk’s robes wielding swords. Apparently Francesco Grimaldi, who captured Monaco in the 13th century from the Genoese, was able to gain access to its fortress by trickery, donning monk’s robes in order to be given admittance. He then let in his army, gaining him to moniker “Malizia” (the cunning one). He must have been pretty proud of it to incorporate the monks’ robes into the family crest. The motto “Deo Iuvante” means “with God’s help” (or at least with the help of religious robes!)
The St. Nicholas Cathedral was only built in the late 1800’s, but the Grimaldi family chose to construct it in the Byzantine style, on the site of an ancient church.
The royal family’s tombs are under the cathedral floor. Notice that the names are all in Latin, and below the crown is their first initial, mirrored to create a seal.
There are references to Princess Grace everywhere, including signs that take tourists on a guided walk through places in the country with significance to her time here. For instance, there are wedding pictures on the sign in front of the cathedral where she and Prince Rainier III married.
En route between the museum and the Prince’s palace, we walked through the Jardins de Saint-Martin (St. Martin’s Gardens). In addition to hundreds of species of trees and flowers, a fountain and koi pond, there are several statues here, including one of Princess Grace, one of Prince Albert I depicting him as a mariner, and one called The Invitation that beckoned many of us to recreate the young lovers as seniors.
We saw the Prince’s Palace and the noon changing of the guard, and even managed to catch a glimpse of Prince Albert II as he drove his vehicle away from the castle. That’s him in the driver’s seat!
As is the case at Buckingham Palace, when the Prince is at home, the flag flies.
After our guided tour, we stayed on The Rock for a while on our own, enjoying the panoramic views of Monaco, including the preparations for the upcoming Grand Prix, which speeds its way through the streets of Monte Carlo for 3 days.
We stopped at the St. Nicholas Pizzeria for lunch. There we met a couple of German ladies travelling together, and I got to practice my German a bit more. We also unfortunately encountered some stereotypically rude French waiters, who did a pretty good job of snubbing those of us who were not locals. Ah well…. it added to the authenticity of our experience!
After our “easy” day, what could be better than enjoying Viking’s amazing French Cheese & Wine event in the Wintergarden? We ate, drank, and chatted with new friends Judy & Bill (and Judy’s vibrant Aunt Eunice) until it was time for the evening show and music by the band.
Life is good.