Monte Carlo, Monaco: The Port & Changing of the Guard

Postmark: Monte-Carlo, Pte de Monaco 11 Aug 1972

This card from Monaco bears two different scenes — the port at Monte Carlo and the changing of the guard on Palace Square. The stamps, used in 1972 but dating to the early 1960s, feature the Rainier III Swimming Stadium at the port and the Prince’s Palace lit up at night.

Port de Monaco

Port Hercules is the only deep-water port in Monaco and has been in use since ancient times. The modern port was completed in 1926, and underwent substantial improvements in the 1970s. It covers almost 40 acres (160,000 m2), enough to provide anchorage for up to 700 vessels. The port is located in La Condamine, the central ward in the Principality. Nearby landmarks include the Rainier III Nautical Stadium and the Princess Antoinette Park. The farmer’s market at the Place d’Armes dates from 1880 and is a great source of local pride for its “authentic Monegasque” essence.

During the 6th-century BC. Phocaeans Greeks from Massalia (modern day Marseille) founded the colony of Mònoikos. The name of the colony derives from the local veneration of the Greek demigod and mythological hero Hercules, also later adopted by the Romans, who was said to have constructed the ancient path that passed through the region from Spain to Italy. The Roman emperor Julian also wrote of Hercules’s construction of Monaco’s port and a coastal road. The road was dotted with altars to Hercules, and a temple dedicated to him was established on the Rock of Monaco. The name Port Hercules was subsequently used for the ancient port. Monoeci meaning “Single One” or Monoikos meaning “Single House” could be a reference to Hercules or his temple, or the isolated community inhabiting the area around the rock.

According to the “travels of Hercules” theme, also documented by Diodorus Siculus and Strabo, both Greeks and native Ligurian people asserted that Hercules passed through the area.

After the Gallic Wars, Monoecus, which served as a stopping-point for Julius Caesar on his way to campaign in Greece, fell under Roman control as part of the Maritime Alps province (Gallia Transalpina).

The Roman poet Virgil called it “that castled cliff, Monoecus by the sea” (Aeneid, VI.830). The commentator Servius’s use of the passage (in R. Maltby, Lexicon of Ancient Latin Etymologies, Leeds) asserts, under the entry portus, that the epithet was derived:

dictus autem Monoecus vel quod pulsis omnibus illic solus habitavit, vel quod in eius templo numquam aliquis deorum simul colitur.
“either because Hercules drove off everyone else and lived there alone, or because in his temple no other of the gods is worshipped at the same time.”

No temple to Hercules has been found at Monaco although the rocky ground and dense conurbation make future excavations unlikely.

The port is mentioned in Pliny the Elder’s Natural History (III.v) and in Tacitus’ Histories (III.42), when Fabius Valens was forced to put into the port (Fabius Valens e sinu Pisano segnitia maris aut adversante vento portum Herculis Monoeci depellitur).

In 2010 the Finnish manufacturer of marinas and pontoons Marinetek was hired to deliver three new pontoons to Port Hercule. Monaco’s old fixed piers were replaced by Marinetek’s floating concrete pontoons. The renovation was completed in 2011.

Harbour pilots are required for all vessels longer than 30 metres. The depth of water in the harbor ranges from seven meters for standard berths and up to 40 meters for the outer piers and cruise ship docks.

Changing of the Guard

The Prince’s Palace of Monaco (Palais princier de Monaco) is the official residence of the Sovereign Prince of Monaco. Built in 1191 as a Genoese fortress, during its long and often dramatic history it has been bombarded and besieged by many foreign powers. Since the end of the 13th century, it has been the stronghold and home of the Grimaldi family who first captured it in 1297. The Grimaldi ruled the area first as feudal lords, and from the 17th century as sovereign princes, but their power was often derived from fragile agreements with their larger and stronger neighbors.

The Prince’s Palace in 1890 shows clearly a blend of classical facades and medieval fortifications. Due to the modern development of Monte Carlo and growth of flora this uncluttered view of the palace is obscured today.

Today the palace is home to Prince Rainier’s son and successor, Prince Albert II. The state rooms are open to the public during the summer, and since 1960, the palace’s courtyard has been the setting for open-air concerts given by Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra (formerly known as the Orchestra of the National Opera). The palace remains a fully working palace and headquarters of the Monégasque ruler, a fact emphasized by the sentries on constant guard duty at the entrance. The sovereign princes, although bound by constitution, are involved with the day-to-day running of Monaco as both a country and a business.

Since their creation on December 8, 1817, the Palace Guards have ensured the security of the Palace, with the ceremonial changing of the guard every day at 11.55 a.m. At present, its strength is three officers, fifteen non-commissioned officers and ninety-six men in the ranks. The Prince’s Company of Carabinieri provides ceremonial services in full dress uniform. The changing of the guard ceremony on the Palace Square is a solemn military ritual performed with perfect coordination.

Rainier III Swimming Stadium

One of the two stamps on this postcard depicts the Rainier III Nautical Stadium (Stade Nautique Rainier III), a municipal sports complex on the Route de la Piscine in the La Condamine district of Monaco, in Port Hercules. This is listed in the Scott stamp catalogue as Monaco #505 and was issued on June 6, 1962. The 0.10 Monegasque franc stamp measures 40 x 30 mm and was recess printed and has comb perforations of 13.

The swimming pool itself originally existed as sectioned off part of the harbor, dating back to at least 1949. However, construction was expanded in 1961, with the addition of a link road and expansion of facilities. The stadium consists of a heated saltwater Olympic-size swimming pool, with 1, 3, 5, and 10m diving platforms, and a 45m slide. The pool is converted into a 1,000 m2 ice rink from December to March.

Contrary to popular belief, the construction of the Nautical Stadium caused no changes to the layout of the Circuit de Monaco, as at the time, the original layout continued up a ramp, past the Tabac, on a road directly overlooking the swimming pool that is now grandstands and the pit lane. In fact, the “swimming pool” section of the Monaco circuit was there not created specifically for racing as such, but merely used this link road (built in 1961) around the outside of the swimming pool. This happened in 1973 as it had been decided that a sectioned off pit lane was required for safety reasons and, having had to use temporary pits in 1972, the only place they had room to build permanent pits was by using what was then the current section of the circuit between Tabac and the Gazomètre hairpin. This forced the circuit onto the previously constructed link road around the outside of the swimming pool.

Prince’s Palace

The second stamp on this card depicts a nighttime view of the Prince’s Palace, site of the Changing of the Guard. The 1 franc recess-printed stamp was issued on June 1, 1960, and is listed by Scott as Monaco #478. It measures 40 x 30 mm and has comb perforations of 13.

The Rocher de Monaco overlooks both the port and the Mediterranean. The Prince’s Palace is on the Rocher in the foreground. The imposing Palladian building in the far background is the Oceanographic Museum, founded by Prince Albert I in 1906.

While other European sovereigns were building luxurious, modern Renaissance and Baroque palaces, politics and common sense demanded that the palace of the Monegasque rulers be fortified. This unique requirement, at such a late stage in history, has made the palace at Monaco one of the most unusual in Europe. Indeed, when its fortifications were finally relaxed during the late 18th century, it was seized by the French and stripped of its treasures, and fell into decline, while the Grimaldi were exiled for over 20 years.

The Grimaldis’ occupation of their palace is also unusual because, unlike other European ruling families, the absence of alternative palaces and land shortages have resulted in their use of the same residence for more than seven centuries. Thus, their fortunes and politics are directly reflected in the evolution of the palace. Whereas the Romanovs, Bourbons, and Habsburgs could, and frequently did, build completely new palaces, the most the Grimaldi could achieve when enjoying good fortune, or desirous of change, was to build a new tower or wing, or, as they did more frequently, rebuild an existing part of the palace. Thus, the Prince’s Palace reflects the history not only of Monaco, but of the family which in 1997 celebrated 700 years of rule from the same palace.

During the 19th and early 20th centuries, the palace and its owners became symbols of the slightly risqué glamour and decadence that were associated with Monte Carlo and the French Riviera. Glamour and theatricality became reality when the American film star Grace Kelly became the chatelaine of the palace in 1956. In the 21st century, the palace remains the residence of the current Prince of Monaco.


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