Monaco also suffered in the thirties from the global crisis, which had arisen as a result of the stock market crash of 1929. Fewer and fewer people came to Monte-Carlo to relax or to gamble in the Casino. This led to a drastic decrease in the number of tourists. As a result, hotels and restaurants also ran into financial problems and SBM’s income dwindled.
The State had to look for other sources of income and was fortunate that a new need had arisen because of the crisis. Many entrepreneurs settled in Monaco because of the favourable tax rules. There was suddenly a new source of income for the country, due to the need for offices, which had to be built (mainly in the Condamine) and thus the service sector in Monaco gained momentum. Nevertheless, tourism remained the State’s main source of income. But in the thirties, the State treasury was only 30 percent filled with the remittances for SBM. The State took over responsibility for the distribution of gas, electricity and water and also the construction of infrastructure from SBM.
Louis II also initiated a few projects. In the twenties, for example, he had a special building for gala parties built near the Casino under the eloquent name ‘Sporting Club’ and organised even more sporting events. In 1929 he had the first Grand Prix d’Automobile, a race for sports cars, held within the national borders. This event received international attention because it provided a lot of spectacle and it became such a success that it was held every year. The Prince had a sports stadium built at the foot of his palace by the sea, where official competitions – especially athletics and football – could be held. The stadium was named after him. In this way Monaco could still attract tourists.
Louis II commissioned his son-in-law, Prince Pierre (de Polignac) to revive the cultural life of Monte Carlo because he was very interested in the fine arts and literature. Thanks to his contacts, he ensured that Les Ballets Russes, choreographed by Sergei Diaghilev, who had run into financial problems in Paris, found shelter in Monaco. Diaghilev would actually be in charge of the entire cultural life in the Principality. His presence also attracted other artists (including the composers Poulenc, Stravinsky and Prokofiev plus the visual artists Picasso, Matisse, Miro and Utrillo and the authors Paul Valery, Marcel Pagnol and Colette). After Diaghilev’s death, Les Ballets Russes relaunched from 1932 under the name Les Ballets de l’Opera de Monaco.
Prince Pierre was a true aristocrat and felt at home in Monaco but was seen to be a little colourless – despite having striking blue eyes. Charlotte was an unruly and fickle woman and that quickly led to discord within the marriage. The couple hardly fit together and the children from this marriage seemed to have been conceived out of state interest rather than love. After putting two children on earth, Charlotte retired from public life. She went to live with her children in Marchais. She would have preferred to strip herself of her princely title and live an ordinary life. The marriage came to an end in 1930. Despite this separation, Pierre retained his title without being able to derive political rights from it. Louis II even considered him persona non grata for a while and so he was not allowed to show himself in Monaco for a few years.
During this period, the Monte Carlo Beach Hotel was opened. The special fact about this hotel at the sea is that it was built on French territory, without many guests initially realising it. In a subtle way, the principality expanded its territory by pushing the boundaries. The hotel responded to the need for a summer holiday, which became more trendy in the thirties. This new development attracted new tourists. Monaco followed the policy in France where the government under the ‘Front Populaire’ guaranteed paid holidays for everyone in 1937. Louis II adopted this rule for his own subjects.
In a political sense, there was some calm. The Monegasques were angry that they hardly had anything to say at the highest level and were not eligible for the higher positions. On May 19, 1933, Louis II restored the Constitution. But due to the increase in the number of foreigners among the population, the Monegasques also needed to guarantee their own identity. The poet Louis Notari was commissioned to write a national anthem in the country’s language and since then lessons have been taught in Monegasque at school.
As the world went through uncertain times, Monaco seemed to fall complacently asleep. The English writer William Somerset Maugham characterised the Principality as “a sunny place for shady people”.
TOP PHOTO: Monte-Carlo Beach Hotel