(See the flickr.com slideshow for Monaco. Heed the usual disclaimer.) Monaco is tiny and crowded and very, very rich–or at least it wants you to think so. The picturesque little principality that consists of less than a square mile of land on the Mediterranean coast of France, not too far from the Italian border, has always been a coveted spot, starting a long time ago when, according to legend, the Greek god Hercules passed through and dispensed with the local gods. By the late 1200s Monaco was a colony of Genoa, but a member of the powerful Grimaldi family, Francesco Grimaldi, known as “Il Malizia,” (which can be translated as either “The Malicious One” or “The Cunning One,”) led a force that captured the fortress that guarded it. To gain access to the fortress Grimaldi
reportedly disguised himself as a Franciscan monk and let his men in. The Grimaldis and their descendants have ruled Monaco for over 700 years.
Over the centuries the Grimaldi rulers of Monaco, though Italian, sought protection for their
land from France, and eventually married into French nobility. Over time Grimaldi leaders of Monaco also started calling themselves princes. Ultimately, in 1861, after being ruled by post-Revolution French forces and then the Kingdom of Sardinia, Monaco became a sovereign state.
In the 1850s the Principality of Monaco was in financial peril and decided to invest in the
opening of what seemed to some to be an irrational and overly expensive project to bring in funds–an ambitious casino-resort. By 1869 the gamble (heh heh) had paid off; casino was so extraordinarily profitable Monaco’s rulers stopped collecting income tax from their residents. Rich Europeans who vacationed at the casino realized that if they stayed in Monaco, more of their money would too. Over the next several decades Monaco fashioned itself as a tax-free playground for the rich and famous.
During World War II
Italy’s Fascist troops conquered Monaco, then the Germans moved in and deported
Monaco’s Jewish population, sending some prominent Jews to concentration camps. After the War, Monaco became independent and wealthy again. In 1955 the principality became host to the Monaco Grand Prix, a prestigious Formula One race through the streets of Monte Carlo. In 1956 the reigning Prince, Ranier II, became host to American actress Grace Kelly, attracting international attention. Monaco was fancy yet again.
Today Monaco still thrives as a resort, a casino and a place for the rich to play. Monaco has the highest per capita GDP, the lowest unemployment rate and the longest life expectancy (almost 90 years) of any nation in the world. It also boasts the world’s most
expensive real estate market, the lowest poverty rate and the greatest concentration of millionaires and billionaires. In 2011 reigning Prince Albert II even followed in his father’s
footsteps by marrying Charlene Wittstock, a former Olympic swimmer from South
Africa, as the international media swooned.
While citizens of Monaco are known as Monacans, the term for someone who was born in Monaco is “Monegasque.”
Though the Monagasque are a minority in their own country–there are more French
nationals–and while most everyone in Monaco speaks French, and often many more
languages, to communicate with all the international visitors, the Monegasque do have their own language. Also called Monegasque, one may think it would be closely related to French, but it actually resembles Ligurian, a language spoken in Northern Italy.
The most famous Monegasque musician of the 20th century, and one of the top French
language singer/songwriters of all time, poet and singer Léo Ferré, may have been the son of a casino director, but he was not always a friend to the global jet-setters that made his country rich. Though Ferré attained great wealth and fame, he was also and anarchist and
eventually a communist who sang protest songs in the late ’60s and who worked closely with Paris-based free radio broadcast network, Radio Liberaire. [Learn much about Ferre | Watch Ferré perform “Le Chien.”]
A panoramic view of Monaco | The Casino de Monte Carlo: “Dare to step
inside a legend” | See the Monaco Grand Prix racetrack | Read Josh Levin’s “Big Man, Little Countries” entry on his visit to Monaco
— THE MOST