Grimaldi family at the Côte d’Azur

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Grimaldi family at the Côte d’Azur

The Grimaldi family name has unmistakable associations with Italian ancestry, appearing in an astonishing number of geographical place names, historic buildings and famous events on the French Riviera.

Chateau de Grimaldi in Antibes
The view from the sea towards the town of Antibes and Chateau de Grimaldi with Picasso Museum.

Who was the Grimaldi family?

What were these Italians doing over many centuries in foreign territory, and were they really real strangers? They belonged to the Grimaldi family, or house if you will, which originated from Genoa. It is a neighboring area located East of the Côte d’Azur in Italy, not far away and on the same splendid Mediterranean coast.

The Grimaldi name is everywhere

Several palaces, public buildings, hotels and restaurants, streets and squares, natural areas and much more in the area of the French Riviera bear the name Grimaldi. Château Grimaldi de Antibes (houses the Picasso museum) is definitely worth a visit, as is The Prince’s Palace of Monaco, and perhaps the most interesting: Château-Musée Grimaldi in Cagnes-sur-Mer. Here you can get more details of the exciting history of the Grimaldi’s.

Chateau Musée Grimaldi in Haut-de-Cagnes
Château-Musée Grimaldi in Haut-de-Cagnes on the Côte d’Azur

If you are in the heart of the mini-State of Monaco in this world, then you are in real Grimaldi land, as it is descendants of this family who still reign here.

Grimaldi since the 1100s

The Grimaldi family was founded in 1160, in Genoa, at a time when the political streetscape in the Mediterranean was dominated by influential families. They had armies of their own and great power and fought each other. The Grimaldi’s often felt the ground burning beneath them and took refuge in the area West of Genoa – that is, on the French Riviera.

Old building with the coat of arms of the Grimaldi family in the old city of Monaco
Old building with the coat of arms of the Grimaldi family in the old city of Monaco

Franco-Italian Community

Here, over the centuries that followed, they were well integrated, and they often received French support to keep their old enemies from Genoa and elsewhere at bay.

At the same time, they married into the French nobility, and inherited wealth and estates to consolidate their position – not least in the area around their capital Monaco.

Monaco became Grimaldi country

The name Monaco comes linguistically from the Greek word Monoikos, as the city was called back in Antiquity. The word is a composition of monos (standalone) and oikos (house). In Monaco, the name of the Grimaldi family appeared everywhere, and in historical context also on the rest of the Côte d’Azur.

Love lasts

But in relation to the Principality, it is a matter of contemporary love, as the city-State still formally belongs to the Grimaldi family, and with few exceptions has done so since 1297.

Statue of Francesco Grimaldi in front of the Princely Palace of Monaco
Statue of Francesco Grimaldi in front of the Princely Palace of Monaco

Francesco Grimaldi, who had words for being a malevolent crook, then conquered the area with his men disguised as monks. Francesco was from Genoa, Italy, less than 200 km away. He lost control of the conquered territory four years later, but his family bought it back in 1419, thus becoming Monaco’s undisputed rulers.

Today’s Monaco is a monarchy

Today, Monaco is a constitutional monarchy, and Prince Albert II –  son of Prince Rainier and Hollywood actress Grace Kelly – is, in other words, formally Italian, like his father and his predecessors. Or at least partly Italian, although, like most Monegasques, who speak primarily French.

Read more about Monaco, Monte-Carlo and the city’s attractions.

The Princely Palace of Monaco built together with the Grimaldi Castle
The Princely Palace of Monaco built together with the Grimaldi Castle

The 1956 wedding of Albert’s parents is an event well known to most and is one of the biggest PR stunts in the history of international royalism. Here, the small principality announced to the world that things are going well here – we are here to stay.

France is like a big sister

The Principality is by land bordered by France in the North, East and West, and therefore has a close connection to the French in many crucial points. It is in a customs union with its large neighbor and has entered a defense alliance with it. The currency is the euro in both countries, as in most of the rest of Europe.

The world’s second smallest State

The small city-State is the world’s second smallest country with an area of only two square kilometers and just under 40,000 inhabitants. Smaller, there is Vatican City, which is the headquarters of the Catholic faith, while Monaco’s ‘religion’ is more closely linked to dollars and euros than to Catholicism.

The Grimaldi family – past, present and future

Since 1297, and thus for more than 700 years, the Grimaldi family has ruled on the Côte d’Azur and especially in Monaco. And there are no signs that this will change in the future. The world’s richest pop and sports stars will continue to settle in the city-State, where income tax does not reduce their fortunes, and tourists will constantly visit the area and take a walk in the harbor, where the impressive yachts are parked in almost endless rows. The Grimaldi’s have not live in vain.

By Peter Sejersen – 2023

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