The Rock of Monaco served as a shelter for the area’s early inhabitants from the end of the Paleolithic period, approximately 300,000 BC, evidence of which has been found in a cave in St. Judist’s Gardens. According to the accounts of historian Diodorus Siculus and geographer Strabo, the area’s first permanent settlers were the mountain-dwelling Ligures, who emigrated from their native city of Genoa, Italy. However, the ancient Ligurian language, which was apparently not Indo-European, is not connected to the Italian dialect spoken by the modern inhabitants of Liguria, nor to the modern Monegasque language.
The Phocaeans of Massalia founded the colony of Monoikos, named for its Ligurian inhabitants, in the 6th century BC in the area now known as Monaco. Monoikos was associated with Hercules, venerated in this location alone as Hercules Monoecus (i.e. the lone-dweller).
Roman Rule & The Middle Ages
After the Gallic Wars, Monoecus, which served as a stopping-point for Julius Caesar on his way to campaign in Greece, fell under Roman control as part of the Maritime Alps province (Gallia Transalpina).
Monaco remained under Roman control until the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in 476, from which point the area was ravaged by Saracens and various barbarian tribes. Though these raids left the area almost entirely depopulated, the Saracens were expelled in 975, and by the 11th century the area was again populated by Ligurians.
In 1191, Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI granted suzerainty over the area to the city of Genoa, the native home of the Ligurians. On June 10, 1215, a detachment of Genoese Ghibellines led by Fulco del Cassello began the construction of a fortress atop the Rock of Monaco. This date is often cited as the beginning of Monaco’s modern history.
As the Ghibellines intended their fortress to be a strategic military stronghold and centre of control for the area, they set about creating a settlement around the base of the Rock to support the garrison; in an attempt to lure residents from Genoa and the surrounding cities, they offered land grants and tax exemption to new settlers.
The House of Grimaldi
The Grimaldis, descended from Otto Canella and taking their name from his son Grimaldo, were an ancient and prominent Guelphic Genoese family who, in the course of the civil strife in Genoa between the Guelphs and Ghibellines, took refuge in Monaco, accompanied by various other Guelphic families, most notably the Fieschis.
François Grimaldi seized the Rock of Monaco in 1297; the area remained under the control of the Grimaldi family to the present day, except when under French control from 1793 to May 17, 1814. Designated as a protectorate of the Kingdom of Sardinia in 1815 by the Congress of Vienna after Napoleon’s defeat, Monaco’s sovereignty was confirmed by the Franco-Monegasque Treaty of 1861. The Prince of Monaco was an absolute ruler until a constitution was promulgated in 1911.
The famous Casino of Monte Carlo opened in 1863, organised by the Societé des Bains de Mer (“Sea-bathing Society”), which also ran the Hotel de Paris; taxes paid by the SBM have been plowed into Monaco’s infrastructure. Economic development was spurred in the late 19th century with a railway link to France. In July 1918, a treaty was signed providing for limited French protection over Monaco. The treaty, written into the Treaty of Versailles, established that Monegasque policy would be aligned with French political, military and economic interests. One of the motivations for the treaty was the upcoming Monaco Succession Crisis of 1918.
World War II
While Prince Louis II’s sympathies were strongly pro-French, he tried to keep Monaco neutral during World War II but supported the Vichy French government of his old army colleague, Marshall Philippe Pétain. Nonetheless, his tiny principality was tormented by domestic conflict partly as a result of Louis’ indecisiveness, and also because the majority of the population was of Italian descent; many of them supported the fascist regime of Italy’s Benito Mussolini. In 1943, the Italian Army invaded and occupied Monaco, setting up a fascist puppet government. Soon after, following Mussolini’s fall in Italy, the German Army occupied Monaco and began the deportation of the Jewish population. Among them was René Blum, founder of the Opera, who died in a Nazi concentration camp. Under Prince Louis’ secret orders, the Monaco police, often at great risk to themselves, warned people in advance that the Gestapo was planning on arresting them. The country was liberated as German troops retreated.
The revised Constitution of Monaco, proclaimed in 1962, abolished capital punishment, provided for female suffrage, established a Supreme Court to guarantee fundamental liberties and made it difficult for a French national to transfer his or her residence there.
In 1993, Monaco became an official member of the United Nations with full voting rights. In 2002, a new treaty between France and Monaco clarifies that if there are no heirs to carry on the dynasty, the Principality will remain an independent nation, rather than be annexed by France. Monaco’s military defence, however, is still the responsibility of France.
On 31 March 2005, Prince Rainier III, too ill to exercise his duties, relinquished them onto his only son and heir, Prince Albert Alexandre Louis. Prince Rainier died on 6 April 2005, after a reign of 56 years, and his son succeeded him as Albert II, Sovereign Prince of Monaco.
Following a period of official mourning, Prince Albert II formally assumed the princely crown on 12 July 2005, in a celebration that began with a solemn Mass at Monaco cathedral, where his father had been buried three months earlier. His accession to the Monegasque throne was a two-step event, with a further ceremony, drawing heads of state for an elaborate levée, held on 19 November 2005 at the historic palace in Monaco-Ville. Albert II is also the son of the late Princess Grace, previously known as the actress, Grace Kelly.
The principality’s mild climate, attractive scenery, and gambling facilities have made Monaco world famous as a tourism and recreation centre.