Monaco, an ancient principality steeped in a rich and colorful history, is considered by many to be Europe’s most fascinating country. Though the Principality covers but one square mile, it stands as a proud monarchy with his Serene Highness Prince Rainier III as its head of state. Today people visit Monaco and its glittering district Monte-Carlo not simply to vacation, not just to test their standing with lady luck, nor merely to see and be seen, but to revel in the memorable life-enhancing experience that is Monaco.
GENERAL PRESENTATION ACCESS AND COMMUNICATION
A sovereign and independent state, the Principality of Monaco has borders on its landward side with several communes of the French Department of the Alpes-Maritimes; from west to east these are Cap d`Ail, la Turbie, Beausoleil and Roquebrune Cap Martin. Seawards, Monaco faces the Mediterranean.
The population of the Principality consists of 29,972 inhabitants, 5,070 of whom are Monégasques, 12,047 French and 5,000 Italian (according to the last official census in 1990).
Its surface area is 195 hectares, of which nearly 40 were recovered from the sea during the course of the last twenty years.
It lies in a narrow coastal strip which sometimes rises vertically upwards with its highest point at 163 meters. Its width varies between 1050 meters and a mere 350 meters. Its coastline is 4100 meters long.
THE HOLY WEEK PROCESSIONS
The origin of the religious traditions of Holy Week may probably be traced back to the time of the Crusades, when survivors of these distant expeditions to the Holy Land introduced the Christians of the West to the rites of their brothers of the East. Accounts of the first Good Friday Processions can be found in Monaco from the thirteenth century. This ceremony, however, did not take on its full significance until the foundation by Prince Honoré II in 1639 of the Venerable Brotherhood of the Black Penitents of Mercy.
Since that time, this Brotherhood, whose members are Monégasques of all ages and conditions, brought together in the spirit of serene piety and disinterested love of one’s neighbors, each year organizes on the evening of Good Friday, the Procession of the Dead Christ, a traveling evocation complete with all the characters, real or imaginary, of the main Stations of the Cross.
After Saint Dévote, Saint Roman is the most popular and most venerated saint in the Principality.
The veneration by the Monégasques of this Roman legionary, who suffered martyrdom on 9th August 258 in the reign of the Emperor Valerian, goes back to the sixteenth century when a relic of Saint Roman was entrusted to the Terrazzani family who had a chapel built in which to lay it.
For several centuries, the Feast of Saint Roman took place at the hamlet of les Moulins (“the Mills”) near to the old chapel.
Around 1880, the festivities moved to Monaco-Ville. Today, with the support of the Committee of the Feasts of Saint Roman, we still dance and enjoy cool drinks in the month of August under the foliage of the hundred-year-old trees of the Saint Martin gardens.
In Monaco, until the end of the last century, Christmas Eve was the occasion when all the members of a family would gather at their parents’ home to perform, as a preliminary to the evening meal, the rite of the olive branch. Before sitting down, the youngest of the guests, or the oldest, soaked an olive branch in a glass of old wine. He approached the fireplace where a great fire of pine and laurel branches burned and with his little branch traced the sign of the Cross while pronouncing a few words on the virtues of the olive tree, a source of all kinds of good things. After this, everybody in turn wet his lips in the glass of wine serving as an aperitif before the gala dinner whose main dish was an enormous “brandamincium”, a Monégasque dish of salt cod pounded up with garlic, oil and cream, surrounded by “cardu”, cardoon in white sauce ; “barba-Giuan”, literally “Uncle John”, stuffed fritters and “fougasses” flat crunchy biscuits sprinkled with sugared aniseed colored red and white, flavored with several drops of rum and orange-flower water.
On the table covered with a splendid cloth lay a round loaf of bread “u pan de Natale” (the Christmas loaf) on which four walnuts formed a Cross surrounded by several olive twigs.
From this Christmas of olden times, there are still in existence, besides Midnight Mass in the Cathedral, “Barba-Giuan”, “fougasses” and “u pan de Natale” to be found at some bakeries in the Principality.
The tradition of the carnival in Monaco probably goes back to the fifteenth century.
The carnival, the period between the Sunday of Epiphany and Ash Wednesday, was the opportunity people to enjoy themselves before the long and austere period of Lent.
Young and less young disguised themselves as best they could in old clothes, formed processions, exchanged bawdy cat calls and, holding a large piece of cloth by the corners, threw up into the air an ungainly dummy figure stuffed with straw and rags.
Fights with projectiles which were often far from harmless – rotten eggs, chickpeas, gravel, oranges and lemons – enlivened the passing of the procession which usually finished with the burning of the dummy amid general merriment. After this, weather permitting, there was dancing at the corner of the streets or in the fields to the shrill sound of make-shift instruments.
The tradition of the Carnival has been revived over the last thirty years or so with “Sciaratù”. Organized by the Roca-Club, this comic procession with its floats, disguises, enormous dummy heads, fights with confetti and dancing in the open air which rounds off the evening, takes place in the height of summer to the delight of tourists in search of local colour.
THE MONEGASQUE NATIONAL HOLIDAY
Faithful to a tradition which goes back to 1857, the Monégasque National Holiday is now celebrated on 19th November, Saint Rainier’s day.
Previously, the Festival of Saint Dévote was observed as the National Holiday.
A Thanksgiving Mass with a program of choice music, the conferring of honors and decorations, a gala evening at the Opera House, treats for children and elderly people and a grand firework display all contribute to make this day of gaiety the great Festival of the Monégasque people.
Numerous traditions, which, lapsed today but perhaps only temporarily forgotten, bore witness right up to the last century either to the religious spirit or joy of living of the Monégasques.
The traditions of Saint Blaise, very popular among country people : the peasants came in procession, often on the backs of donkeys, from the plain of the Condamine or its neighboring hills, to have the seeds of their future crops blessed together with several handfuls of figs ; these latter had the power when drunk in an infusion of curing tonsillitis and seasonal colds.
The tradition of the “Mays” with, from the first to the last of this month marking the height of Spring, dances (“farandoles”) round a Maypole, decorated with flowers and red and white ribbons – the Monégasque colors – set up in the very center of the Palace Square.
The tradition of the “pignata” ball, organized on the first Sunday of Lent, which takes its name from the cooking pot which members of the crowd, their eyes blindfolded, tried to break at intervals with heavy blows of their sticks.
The tradition of the “ciaraviyù” (the Monégasque form of the French word” charivari” meaning “row or racket”) which consisted of providing the most unharmonious serenade possible, continuing all night long, under the windows of newlyweds when they formed a far too disparate couple.
Plus many others which the National Committee of Monégasque Traditions, established in 1924, is trying to revive – as it has already revived, to quote only one example, the tradition of Saint Nicolas, the patron saint of good children, on 8th December.
The cultural climate of the Principality which had developed particularly rapidly in the seventeenth century with the encouragement of Prince Honoré III is one of the principal concerns of H.S.H. Prince Rainier III, following the example of Prince Pierre of Monaco who was the friend of the greatest writers, painters and composers of his time.
A department of the Government of the Principality, the Directorate of Cultural Affairs, whose head is Monsieur Rainier Rocchi, under the authority of the Department of the Interior, is responsible for promoting the cultural development of the Principality by, on one hand, providing facilities for all forms of prestigious cultural expression and, on the other, encouraging artistic creativity.
The Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra
The first permanent orchestra established in 1863 came into its own with the opening of the Garnier Palace in 1879. In 1953 it became known as the National Orchestra of the Monte-Carlo Opera, and it was renamed the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra in 1979. Many great conductors of this century, from Richard Strauss to Toscanini and Leonard Berstein to Lorin Maazel, have led the orchestra in concert. The Orchestra’s Music Directors have included Paul Paray, Louis Fremaux, Igor Markevitch, Lovro von Matacic, Laurence Foster and James DePreist. Today, the Artistic Director and Conductor in chief of the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra is Marek Janowski.
Opera of Monte-Carlo
Since its creation in 1879, the Opera of Monte-Carlo has gained international fame, playing a key role in promoting the most beautiful voices to the rest of Europe. The Opera of Monte-Carlo secured a reputation for artistic innovation. Authors such as Bizet, Franck or Massenet wrote some of their works for the Monéguasque Opera. Regularly, the Opera goes on tours to play works of its repertoire.
Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo
After founding the Academy, which bears her name, Princess Grace wished to revive an old tradition by inviting George Balanchine, Serge Lifar and J.B. Cerrone, a Monégasque who directed the “Harkness Ballet” and founded the “Houston Ballet”. Remembering her mother’s wishes, H.R.H. the Princess of Hanover created the new Monte-Carlo Ballet, the management of which she first entrusted to Ghislaine Thesmar and Pierre Lacotte. Today Jean-Marc Genestie is responsible for the Administrative Direction and Jean-Christophe Maillot is the Choreographer. With enthusiasm and competence, they are striving together to raise the Company to the highest international level.
The Little Singers of Monaco
These young voices carry on a tradition from the reign of Prince Antoine I in the early eighteenth century, when an ensemble of children’s voices sang the liturgies in the Palatine Chapel. In 1973, the Government of the Principality asked the late Philippe Debat, whose son Pierre is the current Chapel Master, to carry out a musical mission in every country of the world with a choir of children’s voices only. Prince Rainier III affectionately calls this choir of 26 boys “My Little Singing Ambassadors”.
The Principality of Monaco celebrates the 700th anniversary of the Grimaldi Family’s reign
In 1997, the Principality of Monaco celebrates the 700 years reign of the Grimaldi dynasty. It all began on January 8, 1297 when the Guelf Francois Grimaldi dressed as a Franciscan monk, seized the fortress protecting the famous rock and the port of Hercules.
Surmounting the trials and tribulations of history and throughout the dark periods of foreign domination, the Principality has managed to affirm its identity and preserved its independence throughout the centuries due to the wise guidance of its Princes. Thus, at the threshold of the third millennium, it will celebrate its commitment and loyalty to the Grimaldi family, its territory and community.