Sunday, August 8, 2010

Fort Antoine

Fort Antoine was built on the northeastern tip of The Rock of Monaco by HSH Prince Antoine I during the threat of invasion during the War of Spanish Succession. He sold family heirlooms and melted down his own silver and gold to pay for the new fortifications to ensure the safety of his small country. Prickly bushes and cactus were planted along the base of the walls to serve as natural obstructions. The primary fortifications were built in 1709 but much more work was done. Huge gates at the approach were constructed, the cliffs were sheered and an underground barracks was built and a drawbridge was added by the last year of the war in 1714. The feared attack, however, never came and over time Fort Antoine began to lose its purely military, defensive function. Today there are pittosporum hedges rather than parapets and the cannon are only fired in salutes to mark joyous occasions in the history of the principality.

Time, neglect and other priorities had caused Fort Antoine to deteriorate considerably by the twentieth century. During World War II, when Monaco was occupied by the Axis forces, the major buildings were fortunate to remain unscathed amidst the numerous Allied air attacks. The harbor, La Condamine and neighboring Beausoleil were bombed in 1944 and the area of Fort Antoine was damaged. The underground tunnels Prince Antoine I had built served as bomb shelters for the frightened Monegasque population. After the war in 1954 HSH Prince Rainier III ordered a complete refurbishment of Fort Antoine, both to repair and to redesign the fortress for a more pleasant, non-military purpose. The stout walls, watchtowers and gun emplacements remain but the interior is now an open-air theater with cannonball pyramids decorating the stage to match the martial surroundings.

Today Fort Antoine is famous for its shows rather than its ramparts. The theater offers 350 seats in semi-circle stepped rows. As it is an outdoor theater one can still get a good show with a good pair of glasses rather than a seat up front. Shows, musical performances and the like are mostly held in the summer though when not in use there is no price for admittance and it is a rather scenic place to take in the view amidst the historical surroundings. It is only on special occasions such as the births of Princess Caroline, Prince Albert and Princess Stephanie that the Prince’s soldiers man the walls to fire off cannon salutes in honor of the new arrivals. Hopefully we will soon hear them firing again in honor of the arrival of the next Princess of Monaco.

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