Part 21 in our History of Monaco series

From the official announcement of Prince Rainier’s engagement to the movie star Grace Kelly Monaco got in the mood for the upcoming marriage. It brought enormous relief to the population. “When I proposed to Grace, I was sure I was about to win an important bet. I felt at home with the Kelly family from the beginning,” Prince Rainier III would later explain in an interview with Nice Matin. “It’s never easy to propose to someone, but it was first and foremost a matter of two people loving each other. The population understood this aspect but also immediately understood that it was not an ill-considered action by me. The Monegasques immediately accepted my wife as their Princess, and I took this as an encouragement for the other goals I had set.” 

Within weeks, the opposition’s criticism of Rainier’s policies had disappeared. Everyone in Monaco was getting ready for a fairytale wedding with a global appeal. The American media came to report on it in huge numbers. The NBC TV stadium sent no fewer than thirteen reporters to the Principality. “There are more reporters here than at the Normandy landings,” one French reporter remarked, as Rainier III picked up Grace on his yacht Deo Juvante II on April 12. She had travelled with her family for eight days aboard a passenger ship from New York to the Côte d’Azur and transferred to her husband-to-be’s yacht at sea near Cannes. From this ship she saw her new home from a different perspective, accompanied by 21 cannon shots. All the inhabitants had walked out to welcome her. There were thousands of people on the quay. 

On April 18, the civil wedding was concluded in the Palace and one day later the ecclesiastical consecration took place in the Cathedral of Monaco. The whole world was watching because for the first time a wedding was broadcast live on television by the European Broadcasting Union. An estimated thirty million people watched the black-and-white images from this exotic dwarf State. For this occasion, there was talk of an air bridge between Paris-Orly and Nice and special trains ran from Paris to Monte-Carlo. Tens of thousands of curious people flooded the Principality. Two thousand journalists were accredited. Commissioned by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, a special film was made under the title “The wedding of the century”. It was a way for Grace to come out from under the contract of a yet-to-be-made feature movie. Because it was impossible for her to continue her film career as a Princess. 

There were also many special guests attending the ceremony in the Cathedral, such as movie stars Cary Grant, David Niven and Ava Gardner, and writers, William Somerset Maugham, Colette and Marcel Pagnol, while on behalf of France the young politician François Mitterrand took a seat in the pews. After the church service, the bride and groom drove through the Principality in an open Rolls-Royce, given as a wedding gift by the people of Monaco. In the church of Saint-Dévote, Princess Grace laid her bridal bouquet in the chapel of the patron saint of the Princely family. Afterwards, the couple returned to the Palace for a gala party for invited guests. “There wasn’t even that much to report on for the massive influx of media, but that wasn’t our problem,” Prince Rainier later explained with a laugh. The only blemish on the day was the weather. In the afternoon it was very gloomy because of the grey clouds. But the marriage became one big advertisement for Monaco, which had become a household name in the United States from April 19, 1956. Many Americans had already booked a trip to that mini State on the Côte d’Azur that summer. 

With the arrival of Princess Grace, a new dynamic came to the Palace. It had hardly been used optimally for centuries because a large part was not inhabited. “Most of the Princes didn’t even live in the palace. Even my husband didn’t live there until our marriage but only worked there. It was of course a beautiful building. All I had to do was open the windows and put some vases of flowers in the rooms to bring it back to life. I felt reluctant to walk around in casual clothes because it was an elegant Palace,” she would once say of the building.

Within two years of marriage, she was the mother of two children, with the birth of Caroline (born 23 January 1957) and Crown Prince Albert (14 March 1958). With these two children, Rainier suddenly sat firmly on the throne. The opposition, which wanted to help Princess Antoinette to power, was in fact taken out of play. Rainier still felt opposed by the National Council, which was still headed by Jean-Charles Rey, and after some warnings he took the decision to dissolve Parliament on January 29, 1959. In fact, Rainier took full control of power at that time for a period of three years. It was not until March 27, 1962, that he would present a new Constitution. Princess Antoinette had to leave the field and was given a villa in Eze, plus the title Baroness de Massy, which was transferable to her children. 

Prince Rainier was very ambitious and threw off all trepidation, also supported by SBM boss Onassis. He wanted to work on projects to make his country undergo a metamorphosis and to make it participate in the modern world. As an absolute monarch, he was able to bring about the reform, which would make his country less dependent on tourism and the Casino. There was already a change in his first years as Head of State. Between 1949 and 1956, the scope of industrial activities in Monaco expanded at a rapid pace. In the last year, four times as much money was spent in this sector as in the first year. Employment increased enormously, including in the banking and financial sector. 

Prince Rainier appointed the American Martin Dale as the boss of an investment company with the eloquent name Monaco Economy Development Corporation. This man had worked at the State Department in Washington and had a clear vision. He proposed to make Monaco a centre of the financial world, as Hong Kong had become in Asia. He believed that there should be more space for businesses and for housing. For example, it was investigated how a few hectares of land could be extracted at sea, because Monaco had a chronic lack of space after the amputation of Menton and Roquebrune. And there was an urgent need for that now. In 1958, work began on shifting the train track along the sea to a tunnel under Monte-Carlo. As a result, a lot of building land was released and the barrier between Monte-Carlo and the sea was removed. A new district was projected along the coastline – Larvotto – and this also played into the development that summer tourism became increasingly important. Also, in Monte_Carlo there was still room to build tower blocks. As a result, Monte-Carlo quickly acquired a different appearance. 

They were costly investments, for which Rainier might never have received the Parliament’s approval if he had not dissolved it. Rainier’s ambitions only increased. He wanted to give his country a modern look and at the same time tap into new sources of income. The plans to build a new district at sea west of the rock were entirely in line with his vision. A total of 309,000 m² of building land would be reclaimed. The Monte-Carlo station was closed, and the land was repurposed for the construction of the LOEWS hotel and the tunnel, the railway disappeared underground and new land was created at Portier, Larvotto and later especially Fontvieille. In Dale’s plans, the creation of the latter district was crucial, because there would be room for industrial activities and offices, which would automatically reduce dependence on tourism. In France, people looked with suspicion at the plans in the dwarf State. It even led to diplomatic tensions between the Palace and the Elysée. 

FILE PHOTO: The newly-married couple tour Monaco in the Rolls-Royce gift from Monegasques and residents