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Do you know how the current borders of Monaco were settled and how they evolved?

The map of Monaco in 1898
The map of Monaco in 1898 made by C. Gillot (Paris) / Wikipedia Commons

In the Principality of Monaco, the construction of a defined territory has been more fluctuant in time. Since the arrival of the House of Grimaldi to “The Rock” in 1297, centuries of territorial tensions between its inhabitants and those of the neighbouring village La Turbie – which was part of the states of the Savoy’s family – shaped the borders.

The map of Monaco made by Jacques Nicholas BELLIN in 1746.
The map of Monaco made by Jacques Nicholas BELLIN in 1746. / Photo credit: Library of the Congress of the USA

These tensions continued until the XVII and XIX centuries when the Grimaldis made substantial progress by using all their diplomatic resources to ensure their recognition as sovereigns of Monaco by the major ruling empires in Europe, which also helped to define the borders of their territories in the coasts of the Mediterranean. An example of this effort is the letter that King Louis XIV wrote in July 1705, confirming the possessions of the Prince of Monaco over the lordship of La Turbie. 

Later, in 1793, during the French Revolution, the Principality was annexed to France, until 1814, when Prince Honoré IV managed to recover control over his territories, thanks to a clause added at the Congress of Vienna in 1815. In it was stated that “the Prince of Monaco should return his estates”, including not only the Principality but also the rest of the properties that the Grimaldi family had all over France.  

In 1828, the Kingdom of Sardinia and the Principality of Monaco signed an agreement fixing the borders between both countries. Nowadays, it is still possible to find these old landmarks in Monaco, for example, in front of the church of the Sacré-Coeur de Jésus in Chemin de La Turbie. There is a landmark stone with the number “1828” and the cross of the Savoy Royal House. 

But because history is not lineal, when referring to the borders of Monaco we have also to consider Menton and Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. These towns where annexed in 1346 and 1355 respectively by Charles I Grimaldi, whose family had left Genoa and settled in Monaco around that period. 

Landmark-MC-1828
Photo via Juan Dávila y Verdin

Menton and Roquebrune were part of the Principality of Monaco until 1848, when the inhabitants of both towns proclaimed themselves as free-towns and were placed under the protection of the Kingdom of Sardinia. In 1860, the Sardinian king and Napoleon III agreed that the County of Nice was again and definitely ceded to France, and in February 1881, the French Emperor signed a treaty with Charles III of Monaco, officialising the annexation of Menton and Roqueburne to France. 

The loss of Menton and Roquebrune represented 80% of the Monégasque territory at that time, which obliged the Monégasque monarchs to urgently establish new public policies to ensure the survival of the state in a much restricted territory, covering less than two square kilometres. In the following decades, a major urbanisation trend started. 

Since 1880, the Principality has claimed large portions of territory to the sea. Also, the success of the organisational socioeconomic policies in Monaco forced France to reinforce its bordering policies with the Principality, by establishing at the beginning of the twentieth century two new neighbouring municipalities, separated from La Turbie: Beausoleil in 1904 and Cap d’Ail in 1908. 

Map of Monaco by Matthaus Merian
Map of Monaco by Matthaus Merian

Although Prince Albert I and Louis II contributed to the modernization of Monaco, it was Prince Rainier III, who between the decades of 1960 and 1990 promoted major extensions of the country, by continuing to develop Port Hercules, Larvotto, and the construction of Fontvielle, an entire ward claimed to the sea. 

HSH Prince Albert II continues with the building tradition of his father, and Le Portier is the newest extension of the Principality, currently under construction, that is extended to be complete by 2024. 

Tourist souvenir published in 1943 by the Monegasque Tourist Office
Tourist souvenir published in 1943 by the Monegasque Tourist Office

To conclude, it is important to mention the sovereign conventions of Monaco over its territory. Article 1 of the Constitution of the Principality, adopted in 1962 and amended in 2002, offers an interesting point of reference to understand the definition of the sovereign territorial composition of the Monégasque State. It declares that ‘the territory of the Principality is unalienable,’ stating that ‘the Principality of Monaco is a sovereign and independent State within the framework of the general principles of international law and particularity conventions with France’.

by Juan Dávila y Verdin


Juan Dávila y Verdin
Juan Dávila y Verdin

Juan Dávila y Verdin (Argentina, 1984) – BA (Hons.) in Global Politics and International Relations, Birkbeck College, University of London. MBA alumni from the International University of Monaco. Currently part of the International Law and Diplomacy program organised by United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) and the University for Peace (UPEACE) – UN Mandated. His research “National identities and cultural resilience in the European microstates in the twenty-first century: the current challenges in Liechtenstein, Monaco and San Marino. A contribution to the study of international relations.” is part of MOARCHÉO, the exposition organised by the Museum of Prehistoric Anthropology of Monaco.

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