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Monaco's history is pretty much the history of the Grimaldi family. The country is their private playground, and they are its

The area which is now Monaco has been inhabited since the Stone Age. Legend has it that during the Roman era a young Corsican Christian named Dévote was executed and her body placed in a boat for Africa. The boat drifted off course and ran aground on the coast of modern-day Monaco, where a state was founded in her honour.

The first serious spate of building in the area - the perimeters of today's Princes Palace - was undertaken by the Ligurians, a Ghibelline Genovese dynasty which ruled Monaco in the 13th century. But on 8 January 1297 the first of the Grimaldis, François, snuck into the citadel behind the backs of the Ghibellines and scored his heirs 700 years' worth of easy living.

In 1489 King Charles VIII of France recognised Monaco's independence. Although they were leading separate lives, and despite Monaco's brief flirtation with Spanish dominance between 1524 and 1641, France and Monaco remained close. Eventually, however, France's possessive nature got the better of it, and in 1793 the new Revolutionary regime annexed Monaco. A treaty signed in 1861 reinstated Monaco's independence, and bickering in recent decades has been restricted to the question of tax laws - Monaco refuses to tax French residents or French companies with their headquarters in Monaco.

Prince Rainier III's fairytale marriage to movie starlet Grace Kelly in 1956 was the icing on the cake of Monaco's glamourous image. When the royal family is made up of leggy models and drop-dead gorgeous screen stars, representative democracy seems a tad dull in comparison. Nevertheless, in 1962 Prince Rainier instituted a National Council elected by native Monégasques, just 16% of the population. As all laws must be passed by the Prince, the Council is mostly for show, and in a country without income tax there's very little to discuss anyway. Besides, with 300 sunny days a year, voting would be a criminal waste of tanning time.


Monégasque culture is the type one buys a new frock for; it's an ideal accompaniment to martinis and finger food. Most of its cultural institutions sprang up fresh-faced in the 17th century under the patronage of Prince Honoré III. The prize-winning Monte Carlo Philharmonic has been thumping out tunes since 1863, while the more modern Monte Carlo Ballet was established by Princess Caroline to honour her mother's memory. Monte Carlo also has its own opera and several theatres.

If you scrape off Monaco's flawless makeup, however, you'll find the remnants of a deeply religious, spiritual culture underneath. The legend of Dévote, the country's patron saint and founder, is a cherished part of Monégasque heritage. Every year on 27 January a torchlit ceremony is held for her at the Church of St Dévote. Monaco also venerates saints such as St Roman, a martyred Roman legionary, and St John.

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