The old town of Monaco, at the eastern end of the Cote d'Azur, close to the Italian border, is a principality. It was founded in 1297 by the Genoese noble family of Grimaldi and until 1861 also took in Menton and Roquebrune. To this day it is still ruled by princes belonging to the Grimaldi dynasty (since 2005 Prince Albert II). Monaco is important today not only as an economic center, but also as an inexhaustible topic of interest for the world's popular press.
Monaco, formally the Principality of Monaco, has an area of 1.95sq.km/0.75sq.mi, making it the second smallest European state after the Vatican City. The population, which is predominantly Catholic, consists of indigenous Monacans (around 17%, with their own local dialect, Monegasco, which is a mixture of Provençal and Ligurian), French (about 50%), Italians (about 20%) and the remainder made up of other nationalities. Residence on the rock of Monaco itself is reserved for the local Monagasques.
Prehistoric finds in the area now occupied by the present-day town of Monaco indicate that there were settlements here before the Stone Age. Around 900 B.C. Phoenicians dedicated a rock to the Baal of Tyre (the Melkart cult). After its development as a trading center by the Greeks it became a port under the Romans and was given the name "Herculis Monoeci Portus". Its subsequent history was influenced by the effects of population migrations and Saracen rule. From the eighth century A.D. Monaco found itself under Genoese authority. The fief of Monaco was provided with a fortress in 1215, remains of which are still recognisable today, and since 1297 has been ruled by the Genoese noble family of Grimaldi, which in 1612 was granted the title of prince. After a period under Spanish protection Monaco came under the control of the French line of Goyon de Matignon-Grimaldi and in 1793 was united with France. In 1814 it was returned to Prince Honoré IV and between 1815 and 1860 came under the protection of the kingdom of Sardinia, only to be transferred back to France in 1860. Prince Charles III protested at this and in return for ceding Mentone (Menton) and Roccabruna (Roquebrune) to France, the principality was given its independence. In 1866 the town of Monte-Carlo was founded. In 1911 Albert I drew up a constitution for the principality and in 1918 relations with France were put on a new footing. In 1949 Rainier III succeeded Louis II, who had reigned since 1922, and in 1956 he married the American film actress Grace Kelly (Princess Gracia Patricia; d.1982). Since 2005, Albert II has ruled the principality.
The 1962 constitution defines the state as a constitutional hereditary monarchy. The reins of government are formally invested with the Prince and are delegated by him to the Minister of State. Apart from budgetary questions, the Head of State has an absolute right of veto within the government.
The government is made up of a minister of state (Ministre d'Etat) and three government councils (Conseils de Gouvernement) for Home Affairs, Finance and Economics, and Public Works and Social Services. In addition there is also a council of state and a trade council.
Representation of the people consists of the National Council (Conseil National), elected for five years, with 18 members, and a Community Council (Conseil Communal) elected for four years. The actual parliament is the Conseil National, which meets twice a year.
In internal as well as external affairs, the government has close links with France, both in terms of customs and monetary union (dating from 1865 and 1925 respectively) as well as in taxation laws.
The principality is part of France for the purposes of customs administration, but since 1885 it has issued its own stamps, which are used for letters sent from Monaco. The Office des Emissions de Timbre-Poste (2, Avenue St Michel; open: Mon.-Fri. 8.30am-4.30pm) has set up a collectors' service, which can supply stamps (also by subscription).
Apart from high taxes on consumer spending, which make up 55% of its income, the state levies no other taxes, either on income, capital growth or wealth. The largest items of expenditure are culture and science.
There is an industrial and commercial Monaco which is of great importance. More than 2,700 firms employ over 21,000 people, of whom half live in France. In the narrower industrial sector the number of firms has risen from 162 in 1949 to close on 400 at the present time. These industries include electrical and electronic goods, publishing, chemical and pharmaceutical products, perfume and synthetic materials. Monaco also plays an important role today as a financial center. In less than 15 years three urban areas have been created by building out into the sea and the land area of the town has thereby been expanded by 20% with the addition of nearly another 2sq.km.
The principality sees its role today very much in the service sector. The number one money earner is tourism; in 1989 there were almost 250,000 overnight stays (28% from Italy, 22% from France, 12% from the USA, 9% from Great Britain, 4.5% from Germany). The tourist organization whose presence is felt throughout Monaco is the Société des Bains de Mer (S.C.B.), founded in 1856, whose brief was to bring money into the tiny and impoverished principality. The most important hotels and restaurants belong to it, as do the opera house, the golf club and other sporting facilities. The largest hotel is the 636-room Loews Monte-Carlo, which also can boast a night-club, cabaret and swimming-pool, and which on the 1,350sq.m/1,615sq.yd of its "Grand Salon" can welcome up to 1,500 guests. In general Monaco has completely adapted itself to its role as a conference, convention, exhibition and festival center. Besides the Center de Congrès-Auditorium Monte-Carlo (in the Les Spélugues complex) whose amphitheater will hold 1,100 guests, there is the Center des Rencontres Internationales and the Monte-Carlo Sporting Club with its famous Salle des Etoiles. And in 1994 the Center Culturel et des Expositions, which surpasses all the others in terms of size and facilities, came into operation.
The cycle of organized events, of whatever kind, never halts in Monaco, from traditional festivals such as that of Ste Dévote (January 27, when a boat is set on fire), car rallies, television festivals and flower parades, to the International Circus Festival in December. The Monte-Carlo Opera and Philharmonic Orchestra are also renowned, with outstanding conductors and orchestras from all over the world giving guest performances here. In Monaco Diaghilev founded his world-famous "Ballet Russe" in 1909.
The Jardin Exotique (Exotic Garden) is one of the most impressive of its kind. Because of the favorable climate, with little variation in conditions on the constantly warm and damp steep slope, a great variety of the most delicate, and in some cases unique, tropical plants thrive in the Exotic Garden. In the grottoes, beautiful fossils can be seen. In the park there is also the interesting Musée d'Anthropologie Préhistorique (Museum of Prehistory and Anthropology), which not only exhibits bones discovered in the area but also a collection of coins, ornamental objects, etc. from the pre-Roman and Roman periods in particular.
To the north of the museum lies the Parc Princesse Antoinette.
The district of Monte-Carlo occupies a rocky promontory to the north of the Port of Monaco and it is a popular tourist destination. Its most elevated part is crossed by streets with shops and offices, including the Boulevard Princesse Charlotte (in the west, the headquarters of Radio/Télévision Monte-Carlo), the Boulevard des Moulins (pavilion of the Office de Tourisme at its southwestern end; a short distance to the north is the Church of St-Charles of 1883), and the Avenue de la Costa with its many luxury shops.
Monte Carlo is most noted for its glamourous atmosphere as it is considered Monaco's wealthiest district. The glamour also attracts famous people, who in turn attract visitors to Monte Carlo for "people watching".
There are a number of notable events hosted by Monte Carlo such as the Formula One Monaco Grand Prix, championship boxing bouts and fashion shows to name a few.