The name of this country comes from a Greek word, monoikos, which means “one house.” The story is that Hercules passed through the area and a temple was built there, the temple of Hercules Monoikos. In 1215 Monaco became a colony of Genoa; by 1419 it had passed to the crown of Aragon.
The Grimaldi family of Genoa had long been interested in the place; they tried to seize it as early as 1297. Finally in 1395 they took possession of Monaco and in 1419 they officially purchased it. Honoré II (1597–1662) was first to style himself Prince of Monaco. In the 1630s Honoré sought French protection, receiving it in exchange for becoming a vassal of the French. This relationship continued through many generations; since the Grimaldis mostly lived in Paris and were married to various French nobles, it was not considered a problem. Monaco continued as a French protectorate with its own sovereign princes until the French Revolution. Revolutionaries captured Monaco in 1793 but returned it to the Grimaldis in 1814. The 19th century saw temporary rule by Sardinia, then return to French protection. There was also some unrest which culminated in Monaco ceasing to collect income tax from its residents, making it a very attractive home for the wealthy indeed.
During World War I Monaco managed to remain neutral and retain French protection, but during World War II the Italians and then the Germans invaded and began deporting members of the Jewish population, which only numbered about 300. Forty-two were turned over to the Nazis but some of the others were protected. After the war, Prince Rainier III succeeded to the throne in 1949. In 1956 he married the American actress Grace Kelly, which brought Monaco much media attention. (Sadly, she died after a car crash in 1982, aged 52.) In 2005 Prince Rainier relinquished his duties to his son and heir, Prince Albert II, then died a few days later. After a suitable mourning period, Albert II assumed the crown. In 2011 he married Charlene Lynette Wittstock, a former South African Olympic swimmer who is now Princess of Monaco.
Located on the French Riviera, Monaco is bordered on three sides by France and on the fourth side by the Mediterranean Sea. Its area is 499 acres, or less than one square mile; the population is about 36,000. Natives of Monaco are called Monegasques; the country is also home to French, Italian and English people. Visitors will enjoy the mild Mediterranean climate, charming city (hilly, with excellent views) and elegant casino—Monaco’s main industries are gambling and tourism. There is actually a Monegasque language—an offshoot of Genoese—but the country’s official language is French with sizeable communities of Italian and English speakers. Every year since 1955 the Monaco Grand Prix has been held in the streets of Monaco; there is also an annual Monte Carlo Rally and soccer and rugby are popular with the locals.