Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Ancient Monaco

The history of Monaco, vivid enough as most know it, goes back much, much farther than the arrival of the Grimaldi dynasty from Genoa. The name “Monaco” actually came from the name of a Ligurian tribe that occupied the area which was known as the “Monikos”. As early as the 400’s BC the Greek historian Hecataeus of Miletus described Monaco as a city in Liguria -though he did not mean “city” in the way that we define it today. Still, ships took refuge in the natural port, people lived there and there was a permanent presence even then. The name for the Port of Hercules comes from an association so ancient it is undetermined when it began. Strabon, another Greek historian, wrote that, “In Monaco there is a temple dedicated to Hercules” and so the area has long been associated with the mythic Greek champion. In Roman times Pliny the Elder also wrote about the ‘Port of Hercules at Monaco’. Even the great Julius Caesar, when leaving his conquests in Gaul for Rome, boarded his ship for the return to Italy in the port at Monaco.

Evidence has been uncovered in excavations in a cave under St Judist’s Gardens that people have lived in what is now Monaco as far back as around 300,000 BC. Fittingly enough, ancient historians say that the original inhabitants (Ligurian mountain people) originally came from Genoa just as the Grimaldi Lords of Monaco were to do so many centuries later. The first to use the Ligurian name “Monikos” as a geographical term were the Phocaeans of Massalia who founded a colony sometime in the 6th Century BC. Ancient historians say that Hercules stayed in the area, while passing through, alone (thus the name Hercules Monoecus) and it was because of this that a shrine of some sort was erected in his honor and Hercules has been associated with Monaco ever since.

Roman historians explain this in one of two ways; either because Hercules drove out everyone else and lived there alone or because at his temple no other gods were worshipped besides Hercules alone. The Romans ruled Monaco for a very long time and numerous Roman historians, writers and even poets like Virgil make mention of Monaco which was part of the Roman province of the Maritime Alps or Gallia Transalpina. Today there are few other existing monarchies with such a long history as the Grimaldis of Monaco, yet, as can be seen, the small gem on the Riviera already had a very ancient history and had been trod by ancient Greeks, Romans and perhaps even by Hercules (;-)) when Francesco Grimaldi first set foot on the Rock to claim it as his own.


  1. Is there a collection of photos from the 1800's avaiable to view on line ?

  2. None that I am aware of, I have a few but I'm not aware of any place on-line with a collection of photos from that period.


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