Friday, May 28, 2010

The Princely Palace of Monaco

The Princely Palace of Monaco is one of the oldest monarchial homes in the world that is still in use today. Just as it has been for centuries past the Princely Palace is still the official residence of the Monegasque sovereign and, as such, is the heart of the political and social life of Monaco. Part of the unique beauty of the palace is the blending of styles, part modern Mediterranean palace, part medieval fortress, sharing Italian and French styles as well as others. This all goes back to the palace being originally built as a military fortress, a castle, by the Genoese republic in 1191. In 1297 the castle was taken by the House of Grimaldi but the transition from military bulwark to princely palace took a long time.

Over the centuries the Princely Palace that was once a castle was attacked many times, fought over in numerous small wars including Monaco and often changed hands. Seigneur Charles I of Monaco (r. 1331-1357) expanded the fortifications and constructed new buildings which saw the first shift in style from that of a military base to a residential home. Further expansions were made under Lords Lambert and Jean II, however, battles and skirmishes continued off and on until a lasting sense of peace and security was established by the alignment with the Kingdom of France. That, of course, was during the reign of HSH Prince Honore II.

A man of refined taste and a Francophone, Honore II embellished the palace with the works of some of the greatest artists of the Renaissance period and more or less completed the change from castle to palace. By the time his reign ended he had made it a place any French or Italian prince would be comfortable in, as able to entertain as to defend. In the years that followed the Princely Palace was further refined and decorated until it became known as the ‘Versailles of the Mediterranean’. Louis I spent lavishly on furnishings, his son Antoine more on defensive works as the threat of war crept closer to Monaco again. However, with the rise of Louis XIV in France and the importance attached to the court at Versailles a long period ensued in which most Princes of Monaco spent most of their time in France rather that at home.

Some additional work was done during the reign of Honore III, though he was also often absent, and it was during his reign that the Duke of York died in the palace, giving his name to one of the bedrooms. However, toward the end of his reign the outbreak of the French Revolution brought ruin and occupation to Monaco. The Princely Family was arrested in France, the country occupied, the palace looted and later turned into a military hospital and poor house for the revolutionaries. When the Revolution and Napoleonic Wars had passed and the House of Grimaldi was restored the palace had deteriorated considerably and some areas had to be demolished and replaced with new structures.

The rebuilding and restoration increased under Prince Charles III who was the next monarch to actually spend most of his time in Monaco. He went to great lengths to try to recover as much as possible of the art work and family treasures that had been stolen and dispersed at the time of the Revolution. Subsequent monarchs, however, spent much of their time abroad and the palace lingered in the rather gloomy atmosphere it acquired during the long period of Charles’ infirmity. This did not change until the arrival of Prince Albert I and his second wife, Princess Alice. Although the sovereign was often at sea, Princess Alice put her own touch on the palace and society life in Monaco as she encouraged art, learning, music and dance. The place became something of a haven for intellectuals alongside the flow of visitors of every stripe to the booming casino at Monte Carlo.

Prince Louis II did not spend much of his life in Monaco, being in the field with the French army most of the time, his most lasting legacy being the opening of the Napoleonic museum at the palace where the bathing pavilion of Honore II had once stood. However, when his successor Rainier III married the American film icon Grace Kelly the Princely Palace was steadily lived in again and, for the first time in a long time, became a family home. Princess Grace redecorated, which drew some snide comments about what were perceived as California styles, but such attitudes did not last long. Rainier and Grace also oversaw the restoration of much of the priceless artwork at the palace while carrying out their own renovations, mostly geared toward making the palace a more practical home. It was also under Rainier III that the palace became part office as the home base of the big business that was the Grimaldis’ Monaco.

Today, although again often traveling, Prince Albert II still maintains his formal residence at the Princely Palace which, in recent years, has become as much a tourist attraction as many other Monegasque landmarks. State rooms are open to the public in the summer months, parts have the appearance of a museum, but the smart changing of the guard every day reminds all that it is still a monarchial residence.


  1. Hi MadMonarchist.

    Would you have pictures of the rooms of the palace? I remember having seen an A&E documentary on the Princely Palace. Unfortunately, they mostly showed the facade plus the usual salons they feature -- the Throne Room, the Gallery of Hercules, etc.

    Have you been to Monaco and visited the palace? What are your impressions? Honestly, basing it on the documentary, it doesn't seem grand or big. Thanks and more power.

  2. I have a ton of pictures of the palace -just don't have them on the computer. I thought it was magnificent myself though of course it is not massively huge like most royal palaces in the world, there simply isn't enough space to expand it any more. The beauty of the place is in the details of all the artwork, the ornamentation and the diversity of the architecture. Going through the place you really can see the progression of one prince to another, each leaving their own mark on the palace.

  3. I've always been curious about its layout. The east wing, where the Gallery of Hercules is at, houses the grand salons, right? How are the rooms arranged though? From what I read, from the gallery, one enters the Hall Of Mirrors. What rooms lead to the Throne Room? Where does the tour lead you from the Throne Room?

    This interest also is due to the big event this year -- with Prince Albert getting married in the courtyard. Charlene's Tatler photos also sparked this renewed fascination with the palace for me.

    Thanks so much.

  4. I don't recall directions or the order of things, I don't think they were always the same. The state apartments are right along the gallery of Hercules with the Hall of Mirrors connecting them. As I recall, the blue drawing room is next to the throne room (or Grimaldi room) and then is the Mazarin drawing room.

  5. Great Website.
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