Introducing our latest ‘Capsule’, where you can get all the information you need to know in a condensed format – this time for the Principality of Monaco! Sometimes mistakenly considered a part of France, this small city-state is actually its own entity. We’ll cover everything you need to know about Monaco, a place known across the world for glitz, glamour, Grace, and motorsports.
Get To Know: Monaco
- Capital: Monaco (Quartier: Monaco-Ville)
- Largest Quartier: Monte Carlo
- Population (2014): 37,800 (226th)
- Total Area: 2.02 km² (248th)
- Official Language: French
- Currency: Euro (€) (EUR)
- Monaco GDP (nominal): US$6.075 billion (146th)
History and Culture
Monaco has an interesting, often convoluted history thanks to its Mediterranean location and proximity to large and powerful countries. The story of Monaco generally begins with the Genoese (Italians) receiving ownership of the land from the Holy Roman Empire. In 1297, Francesco Grimaldi (of the House of Grimaldi, a Genoese family) conned his way into entering the fortress overlooking the ‘rock’ by dressing as a monk, following which his men ran in to help take it. This set off several centuries of conflict between the Grimaldi’s and other Genoese power brokers, and even members of the same family.
Eventually, the Crown of Aragon (Spaniards) took control, before the House of Grimaldi purchased Monaco back in 1419. Nearly 200 years later, the rulers began to style themselves as ‘Princes’, a title which lasts until this day. After seeking French support against the Spanish, Monaco became a protectorate of its larger neighbour. Later, French revolutionary forces captured the city in 1793, with occupation lasting until the Grimaldi’s returned in 1814.
Just a year later, Monaco was given to the Kingdom of Sardinia (in Italy), before it was eventually ceded to France in 1860. Finally, a year later, the Franco-Monegasque Treaty of 1861 was signed, formally recognizing the independence of the principality. Struggling financially, the ruling family opened a casino that soon turned into a huge moneymaker. The gambling business was so lucrative that the Grimaldi’s soon stopped collecting taxes from residents – giving rise to the notion of Monaco as a tax haven for the rich.
The early 20th century saw the reduction of absolute rule by the Prince and closer ties to France in military, economic, and political interests. During World War II, the principality was occupied by Italy, and later the Germans. The population suffered greatly during this time, however the Grimaldi line remained unbroken.
Since then, Monaco has remained independent, though closely linked to France. The marriage of Prince Rainier III to actress Grace Kelly in 1956 is arguably the most famous event in the principalities history, with international media attention focusing on Monaco for the festivities. A recent treaty guarantees future independence for Monaco, even without a Grimaldi heir – while France remains responsible for defense.
What to do in Monaco
Monaco is very small and, fairly, has a reputation as a place just for the ultra-wealthy. While you’ll certainly get the most out of your trip if you have – shall we say – disposable income, there’s still other interesting sights to take in. Throw in the absolutely beautiful location on the French Riviera, and you have a unique destination that’s worth a side trip if you’re in the area.
- Monte Carlo Casino: This is the most famous landmark in the city and it is a staggering monument to wealth. Gamble away or just poke your head in – but you have to visit at least once.
- Formula 1: One of the most renowned races on the F1 circuit takes drivers through the streets of Monaco at breakneck speed. If you’re lucky enough to be there when it’s on, you’re in for a treat.
- Catch a Soccer Game: The local team, which plays in the French league, has benefited from a recent influx of money by bringing in some top players. If you’re a fan, it’s worth checking out a match depending on the time of year.
- Sample the Local Cuisine: Like nearby France, Monaco is home to some of the best restaurants you’re likely to find. Just be sure to bring a substantial sum of money before reserving a place at some of the better establishments.
- Wander Le Rocher: Also known as Monaco-Ville, this district is a charming visit thanks to the old, medieval lanes that still snake through the buildings. You can admire the strategically important old town, from which the Grimaldi Dynasty has ruled for centuries.
- See Some Sea (Creatures): The Musée Océanographique de Monaco is home to some of the most fascinating marine life in the world. Be sure to check out the shark and predator filled lagoon at its centre.
Currency and Economy
While Monaco is not a part of the European Union, the principality still uses the euro as its main currency thanks to its relationship with France. You can learn more about the euro (which replaced the Monegasque franc) HERE in our Currency Spotlight.
The economy is largely built on tourism, with the ideal climate and gambling both major draws. The money made from the casino business allowed the Grimaldi’s to end income taxes for residents. This has seen many wealthy people move to the principality to live as a ‘tax refugee’. This has caused some controversy amongst other countries and financial regulators, with Monaco named as a tax haven.
The combination of all of this is that Monaco has the highest GDP per capita in the world. The living standards are very high compared to nearby cities, and unemployment is low.
Monaco is an interesting case. Some view it has a luxurious paradise in a perfect climate, while others look down with scorn on what can be considered a tax haven for the rich. At the end of the day however, the glamour of Monaco can’t be denied, and it deserves its place among the great cities of the Mediterranean.
That might be everything you need to know about Monaco, but there’s still more to discover! For information about nearby France as well as Monaco’s currency, check out our Country of the Week profile, Travel Guide, and Currency Spotlight on the euro. You can also learn more about Hong Kong with our first Capsule.
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