Monaco: 2 of sovereignty (12/01/03)

Last updated 12/03/03                                                                                                                                

A country that is synonymous with opulence: large yachts, high rollers at the Monte Carlo casino, exotic sportscars at the Grand Prix races and expensive beach-front property are just a few of the thoughts that come to mind at the mere mention of the word "Monaco". For a place with such grandeur and mystique, the Principauté of Monaco (Principality of Monaco), a soverign state, is diminuitive in size: it has only 5000 citizens, while boasting a population of 30000 in an area that covers only 1.95 square kilometers. That's right, the whole "country" is only 1.95 sq. km in size. In fact the are is so small that one of the streets (Blvd de France) actually extends into French territory, and folks on the east end of the street wishing to talk to their friends or relatives on the west end must make an international phone call. However, for a place with so little land, the spotless streets which wind their way through the steep hills which form this country can make it seem quite immense in size, and walking around town can leave you literally breathless.

The principality has been ruled by the Grimaldi family since 1297, when Francesco Grimaldi gained control of Palais Princier (a fortress at the top of one of the hills in Monaco) through trickery (a fact proudly pointed out by a plaque next to a statue of this cunning founder of the Monaco dynasty). The Monaco monarchy, currently represented by Prince Rainier III, differs from that of other states which retain vestages of their monarchy in that they serve as more than mere figureheads and actually have extensive constitutional powers.

Among the sites we visited during our trip was the
Cathédrale de Monaco. This 19th century cathedral serves as the burial grounds for the members of the royal family, and even has a spot lined up for Prince Rainer III. I'm sure he probably visits the cathedral for public ceremonies, so you figure that it must be pretty eerie for him to have to look at the spot where he's going to be buried. Another interesting thing about the cathedral is that it houses the grave of Grace Kelly (famous Hollywood actress), who married Prince Rainier III in 1956, but died in a car crash in 1982. When we visited the cathedral, her grave was the only one that was lined with several bouquets of fresh flowers -- a testament to the adoration of her visiting fans.

We spent most of our time in Monaco wandering the narrow, steep and absolutely spotless streets of Monaco (I saw plenty of city workers regularly cleaning the streets, including one hapless guy who had the job of sweeping away leaves which were actively falling from nearby trees). We got a first-hand view of the yachts (yup they are pretty darn impressive), some sports cars (during a traffic jam I noticed a brand new Lotus, which was a couple of cars ahead of a Porche 911 turbo), and the glamorous looking Monte Carlo casino (everybody going in was dressed in 3 piece suits, so we didn't even bother trying to get in). So if you don't have money for those fancy yachts or sportscars, and can't keep up with the high-rollers at Monte Carlo, you can always walk around and soak in the culture -- at least that's free!


                            Landscapes of Monaco: hills and sea

                     The ascent from Place D'Armes to the Palais Princier

                             Palais Princier

                     Home to the ruling dynasty of Monaco for over 700 years

                                   Monte Carlo, a district of Monaco