The history of the resort is closely tied to that of Monte-Carlo. Founded in 1863 by a Sovereign Decree passed by Prince Charles III, this extraordinary enterprise played its part in the birth of Monte-Carlo from its earliest hours of glory, writing the first chapters of an adventure unlike any other, whose consequences are now well-known… Since its foundation, the Société des Bains de Mer has continued to play a fundamental role in the Principality, participating in modern developments and introducing new trends.
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The creation of Monte – Carlo 1863 – 1866 :
In 1863, the Plateau des Spélugues on which the Casino was built was used to cultivate traditional Mediterranean species : orange, lemon and olive trees.
It was Prince Charles III, successor to Prince Florestan l, who initiated the creation of a new kind of life for the Principality. The press of the day noted the Sovereign’s ambitions for the town : “The new Casino launched by the Société des Bains de Mer will soon rise from the ground in monumental proportions. Around the Casino, fine hotels will be built, having nothing to fear by comparisons with those that have been opened in Paris, London or New York”. Five years after the first stone was laid, the Casino was inaugurated, in the spring of 1863. It was to carry off a brilliant success.
François Blanc then became a providential gift. Arriving from Homburg, a spa in Germany whose prosperity he had assured, he acquired the property owned by the Société des Bains de Mer and the Cercle des Etrangers de Monaco for a period of 50 years. In keeping with the Prince’s wishes, he continued to reinforce the principles on which the creation of Monte-Carlo was based : a place that would be quite exceptional for its luxury, comfort and location…
In addition to the Casino, the Hôtel de Paris and the Café de Paris, superb gardens and villas were soon to transform the Plateau des Spélugues into a real town which had to be given a name. On June 1st 1866, Prince Charles III then decreed that the land on the Commune of Monaco situated between the torrent of Sainte-Dévote and the pathway called “Francosi”, and between the main road from Monaco to Menton and the seafront was henceforth to be named “Monte-Carlo”.
Monte-Carlo is all the fashion 1866 – 1870 :
We owe the first achievement, the most famous of Monte-Carlo’s hotels, to François and Marie Blanc : the Hôtel de Paris. The most talented designers from France and indeed the entire world were carefully selected to ensure the very best amenities.
To satisfy an ever-growing clientele, François Blanc decided to build the hotel’s first extension only two years after it had opened. In January 1866, the first guests in the new dining-room were dazzled by the building designed by the architect Godinot de la Bretonnerie, and also discovered lighting by gas produced by Monaco’s new gas facility.
The construction of Monte-Carlo was well into its stride : the Café de Paris opened its doors in 1868, completing the “magic triangle” of the Place du Casino. Although of modest size, the establishment then named Café-Divan soon became a favorite place for discussion, distraction or relaxation. Already at the time, the building was home to a café, a restaurant, a jewellery shop and a tobacconist.
The newly christened Monte-Carlo was more than merely successful. In 1869, it welcomed over 170,000 tourists. It played host to a prestigious clientele : the fact that the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII, Alexandre Dumas, Jacques Offenbach, Baron Haussmann and Prince Napoleon all came to stay bears witness to the Principality’s new-found fame. Winter was celebrated by these tourists as a season of predilection : they were enchanted by the mildness of the climate. Monaco’s local newspaper could then observe that “the Principality of Monaco has risen to the highest rank among winter resorts”. Monte-Carlo was all the fashion, a meeting-place for international high society.
Major construction work 1870 – 1890:
On the death of François Blanc in 1877, his widow Marie took over the direction of the Société des Bains de Mer. She carried on her husband’s work, deciding to build new wine-cellars for the Hôtel de Paris.
The old Casino buildings were torn down in 1878 to make room, in less than 6 months, for the building of a new complex. Gambling was temporarily moved to the Hôtel de Paris. It was Charles Garnier who, after building the Paris Opera House, was to be in charge of the construction of the Théâtre du Casino and its large gaming room. He gave the building its present-day allure by crowning it with a cupola and two pinnacles. Sarah Bernhardt was the first to star at the Opera, where she recited a poem while waving huge palm branches, on January 25th, 1879.
The same year, Dutrou built the remarkable Atrium in the Casino, whose 28 stone columns covered with stucco supported a gallery lit by splendid bronze candelabra. Marie Blanc produced high-quality shows in Monte-Carlo, inviting the most well-known performers. When she died in 1881, the Hôtel de Paris and the Casino were recognised as two of the most popular and go-ahead addresses of all the resorts of the time.
Success was such that the Casino’s gaming rooms had to be enlarged again and again. In 1881, Charles Garnier built today’s Salle des Amériques. In 1890, Jules Touzet designed the twin rooms which bear his name and are separated by magnificent glass windows.
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New techniques in Monte-Carlo 1882 – 1897 :
In 1882, the Café-Divan made way for the Café de Paris. The first modest building was replaced in the spring of 1897 by a magnificent construction in Moorish style.
It was in this same year that the crowd assembled on the Place du Casino witnessed one of the most noticed entries ever to the Café de Paris : that of Edouard Michelin, who lost control of his car while participating in the Marseille-Fréjus-Monte-Carlo event, and ended his race by smshing into one of the Café’s pillars. Luckily, no-one was hurt in the accident.
At the end of the 19th century, Monte-Carlo, now well-established as a center for entertainment, organised presentations of new techniques which the public found quite awe-inspiring. At this time, the basements of the Casino were even placed at the disposal of science and, more precisely, one of its great representatives, by the name of Gramme. The assignment entrusted to this inventor was to perfect his famous rotating machine so that it would produce electricty and thus make Monte-Carlo the first town to be lit in this innovative new way. A fire obliged the Casino’s managers to call a halt to the inventor’s research, though it was thanks to the work he accomplished in the Principality that he finally perfected his famous dynamo.
In September 1897, photography and movie contests were organised by the Société des Bains de Mer. Lectures held at the Palais des Beaux Arts presented the physical properties of X-rays.
But the passion that most closely linked Monte-Carlo to technical advances was certainly the history of the motor-car. Competitons for motor-boats at the end of the 19th century had helped to improve combustion engine technology, so it was only natural that the automobile found a home in Monte-Carlo.
“The 20th Century in Monte-Carlo” 1900 – 1911 :
It was in 1900 that the modest establishment of the Hôtel Hermitage was transformed into a luxurious residence for visitors. Its “Belle Epoque” dining-room was the work of Gabriel Ferrier, winner of the Rome Prize and gold medallist at the Universal Exhibition of 1889. It boasted magnificent frescoes recalling paintings by Fragonard and Boucher. The structure of the glass roof in the Winter Garden was designed by the renowned Gustave Eiffel, father of the tower in Paris which bears his name.
At the same time, the Hôtel de Paris was extended thanks to a new wing, the famous “Rotonde”.
Initially crowned by a dome engraved with the arms of the city of Paris, the Rotonde was to be raised on two further occasions.
Larger hotel capacities are explained by an ever-growing clientele at the Casino, which opened its Salle Blanche, designed by Schmit, in 1904, a room intended to be a “conversation lounge”. The most surprising decorative item was the well-known painting by Gervais, representing the “Florentine Graces”. The resemblance of these three Graces to the much-courted Cléo de Mérode, Liane de Pougy and La Belle Otéro amazed the visitors.
Monte-Carlo took on a more urban character to satisfy its clientele. The streets of Monaco were the first to be tarred to facilitate traffic comprised of luxury motor-cars, already turning up to compete in elegance contests at the beginning of the century.
In 1911, the tradition of the Monte-Carlo Rallies was launched : the first edition was won by the aviator Rougier.
The “Belle Epoque” in Monte-Carlo – 1914 :
1911 saw the arrival of the dancer Diaghilev at the Monte-Carlo Opera House. After the success of the famous Russian Ballets in Paris from 1907 to 1910, he revealed his intention of directing his own ballet company, and Monte-Carlo gave him his chance. Guided by a prodigious instinct, he then surrounded himself by a troupe of 80 artistes, the most famous of whom were Nijinsky, Lifar and Fokine. Some of his ballets were international successes : “Le Spectre de la Rose”, “Narcisse” and “Les Papillons”. The stage-sets for the ballets were designed by Picasso, Matisse and Braque. It is also important to note that Diaghilev got Jean Cocteau to design the poster for the very first performance given by the Russian Ballet in 1911.
The Café de Paris was the most popular meeting-place for the world of the arts : Diaghilev’s troupe made it its favorite address for dinner, every night after the performance. 1911 was also a memorable year for Monte-Carlo due to the inauguration of the Monte-Carlo Golf Club at Mont-Agel, much wanted by the large British colony of the time. From its lofty altitude of 900 metres, it offers a breathtaking view of the French and Italian Rivieras and the Principality. In these early days of the 20th century, novelty arrived from the sky, with Rougier, who flew out in his airplane over the Bay of Hercules and then over the rocky buttress known as the “Tête de Chien”. As for 1912, it was marked by the first aerial photograph taken of the Principality by Renaux. Fabre exhibited the world’s first seaplane in the port of Monaco. Speed has always been celebrated in the Principality. The Figaro decided to vaunt the merits of the train, which made a wonderful dream come true : “Going to sleep in a country of mist and grey skies, then waking up the next day to visions of light and sunny places where one breathes a fragrant air. This poetic dream can indeed come true if you take the new lightning-speed train that the Paris-Lyon-Méditerranée company has just created, with Monte-Carlo as its destination”.
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The Roaring ‘Twenties in Monte-Carlo - 1930 :
During the period between the two World Wars, Monte-Carlo reinforced its vocation as a seaside resort and decided to celebrate the summer. To meet the demands of clients who were enthusiastic about the idea of benefitting from sunshine in the warmer months, the creation of new amenities was undertaken by the Principality. A coast road was traced out to the east, edged by palm-trees and small boutiques which were soon known as the “souk”. The bathing establishment opened in July 1928.
The Monte-Carlo Beach Hotel, whose style recalled palatial hotels in Florida, introduced a prestigious new center of interest in Monte-Carlo as soon as it opened in 1929.
The well-known American journalist, Elsa Maxwell, tried to impose the creation of a beach of golden sand with priority given to the building of a sumptuous swimming pool just above sea level. The Beach Hotel guaranteed the renown of the summer resort thanks to the quality of its amenities and the extra draw of its memorable fancy dress parties. Monte-Carlo then offered summer visitors its new seafront, and the Larvotto Beach welcomed its first bathers.
Tennis won a special place of honor in 1928, the year when the Monte-Carlo Country Club was created. The Club’s inauguration was held in February before an audience composed of crowned heads : Gustave V of Sweden, the Duke of Connaught, Prince Nicolas of Greece, Grand-Duchess Hélène, Grand-Duke Andrei of Russia. This sport was particularly appreciated in Monte-Carlo : since its importation from England to the Principality in 1880, it had become more and more popular from one year to the next. The tennis championships have always been important events on Monte-Carlo’s sporting agenda. Even today, the famous Monte-Carlo Open which welcomes top players in the A.T.P. rankings still maintains the spirit of its first international tournaments.
The Decorative Arts in Monte-Carlo 1930 – 1939 :
The 1930s were a productive period for the building of entertainment premises. In 1931, the Sporting d’Eté, marked by the style of the “Colonial Exhibition”, was built at the edge of the sea. It played host to the most fabulous shows of the season and offered spectators dazzling firework displays. The Place du Casino was also endowed with a theater for shows in 1932 : the Sporting d’Hiver, or International Sporting Club. On the former site of the glass palace dedicated to the Beaux-Arts, this building featured a monumental façade surveying the Jardins des Boulingrins : it became an absolute must for Monaco’s nightlife. Clients in its gaming rooms thought of themselves as elitist. Run rather like a British club, the Sporting only admitted its members. It also had a restaurant and night-club, whose clients applauded the “Girls de Monte-Carlo”. Art Deco was also celebrated at the Café de Paris, which underwent extensive modification. The minarets and cupolas built at the beginning of the century disappeared. Faience was replaced by friezes in honor of the new trend. Throughout this decade, the Café de Paris held many dinners and galas. The enchantment of Monte-Carlo made celebrities forget the problems of this era, tormented by the consequences of the economic crisis in the ’thirties and threats of war. For its guests, the Hôtel de Paris was a real haven of tranquillity. Anglo-Saxon clients were numerous : Lloyd George, Sir Winston Churchill, Sir Robert Vansittart and the Duke of Westminster rubbed shoulders in the corridors. The Aga Khan, the Maharani of Kashmir, Prince and Princess Violet of Montenegro, the Comtesse de La Rochefoucauld and René Blum were also among the hotel’s illustrious clients. A moment of relaxation during the war, it was in the setting provided by the Sporting d’Hiver that Radio Monte-Carlo made its first broadcast on July 17th, 1943. This birth was treated to a christening hosted by a great celebrity : Maurice Chevalier.
The “Fifties in Monte-Carlo” 1950 – 1959 :
The victory of the Allied Forces in 1945 allowed Monte-Carlo to see the return of its clientele. Sir Winston Churchill came back, keeping the promise he had been unable to, due to his abrupt return to England because of these tragic events. Other English guests also returned : at prestigious gala evenings in the ’fifties, one noted the presence of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, the Duke of Edinburgh and Lady Bateman, who spent the entire winter season at the Hôtel de Paris.
Edouard Herriot, Prince Pierre of Yugoslavia and Queen Victoria Eugénie of Spain, would come to Monte-Carlo hoping for a few days of rest, while Charlie Chaplin reappeared after a visit in 1931 to present “City Lights”. In 1952, the Hôtel de Paris also welcomed Errol Flynn for his wedding in the Salle Empire. Guests included great names in the movies such as Rita Hayworth, Michèle Morgan and Cary Grant.
1952 was also marked by the arrival in Monaco of the Greek shipbuilder Onassis, who installed the offices of his oil tanker company in the former villa of Marie Blanc. HSH Prince Rainier III then began planning for extensive development of the tourist industry and international congresses, which necessitatd adaptation of hotel amenities. Architects Bruyère and Chiappori added another four floors to the Rotonde at the Hôtel de Paris.
Here in the Principality, the most illustrious event in the second half of the 20th century was quite definitely the marriage of HSH Prince Rainier III to Miss Grace Patricia Kelly, on April 15th, 1956. A festive occasion celebrated by all of Monte-Carlo. To all four corners of the earth, the international press carried pictures of the prince’s family blessed by the happiness of one of the century’s most famous couples.
The Grand Balls 1960 – 1969 :
Modern-day Monte-Carlo, 1970 – today