Fort Antoine, A Theatre That Once Protected Monaco
Monaco is famed for being the playground of the rich and famous and hosting an exciting annual Grand Prix race, and yet, this tiny sovereign state also has a long history. There are several historic landmarks here, one of the most remarkable being Fort Antoine, now a major cultural center and a popular tourist attraction.
A Brief History of Monaco
Monaco was originally founded as a Greek colony in the 6 th century BC. Until the 13 th century it was part of the French kingdom, but in around 1264 the principality was ceded to the Republic of Genoa and is now surrounded by French territory.
The Grimaldi family settled here in 1298 and came to control the principality. They have ruled Monaco for over 700 years. The principality became a protectorate of the Kingdom of Naples and Spain in later centuries but was able to maintain its independence. In 1814, during the French Revolution, it was occupied by soldiers of the revolutionary army. Later it became a protectorate of France and the Grimaldi dynasty cleverly developed the principality into a haven for tourists. During WWII the principality was occupied by Germans and Italians.
The History of Fort Antoine, Monaco
The fort was built by the Prince of Monaco in the early 18 th century, during the Spanish War of Succession (1700-1715) when it was feared that Monaco would be invaded by the British and Spanish. The invasion never took place, and the fortress was abandoned soon after it was built.
During the French Revolution the revolutionaries who occupied Monaco garrisoned the fortress until the fall of Napoleon, in 1815. During the 19 th century, when Monaco’s defense came under the control of Paris, Fort Antoine was no longer garrisoned, and the old fortress became dilapidated and little more than a ruin.
After the fall of France in 1940, Louis II, the Prince of Monaco, was able to maintain their neutrality, but in 1942 Italian forces occupied the principality based on some dubious legal claims. The Italians garrisoned Fort Antoine and during the war, the tunnels beneath the fortress were used as air-raid shelters.
Mussolini and Hitler together in ca. 1940 (Doss, M / CC BY SA-2.0)
In the post-war period, HRH Prince Rainier III had Fort Antoine rebuilt as part of a drive to revive the tourism industry. The fortress was rebuilt in 1953 and many of its original features were retained, although an open-air theater was constructed within the old fortress.
The Majestic Location of Fort Antoine
Fort Antoine is located to the north-east of Monaco and overlooks the Mediterranean Sea. The original ramparts of the 18 th century fortress can still be seen, and they have been rebuilt in a way that maintains their authenticity. The fortress originally occupied about a mile square in size and its seaward walls are approximately 60 feet (20m) high. It is possible to walk these walls.
The well-preserved watchtower was originally built to monitor activities of enemy ships in the waters off the coast of the principality and a number of the original gun emplacements can be seen. The majority of cannons date back to the 19 th century. There are also a number of pyramids made of cannonballs in the old fortress.
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The theatre of Fort Antoine (vouvraysan/ Adobe Stock)
Fort Antoine is now better known as an open-air amphitheater. There are some 350 seats arranged in a semi-circle around the stage and many shows are performed here during the summer months.
Technically, the fort is still garrisoned by soldiers of the reigning monarch. Their duties now include firing off some of the historic cannons on special occasions, especially when a baby is born into the royal family.
Getting to Fort Antoine in Monaco
Entering Monaco from France is easy and while there is plenty of accommodation near Fort Antoine, it can be prohibitively expensive.
Location of Fort Antoine, Monaco (Google Maps)
Admission to the fort is free nearly all year round. This 18 th century fortress is an oasis of peace and calm in the busy principality and offers visitors stunning views. The shows staged at the old fortress require an admission fee and it is not possible to visit the historic site during productions.
Top image: Fort Antoine, Monaco Source: johnbraid / Adobe Stock
By Ed Whelan
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Kundahl, George G. (2017). The Riviera at War: World War II on the Cote d'Azur. London: I.B. Tauris
Available at: https://books.google.ie/books?id=6-mKDwAAQBAJ&pg=PR4&dq=Kundahl,+George+G.+(2017).+The+Riviera+at+War:+World+War+II+on+the+Cote+d%27Azur.+London:+I.B.+Tauris.&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj225iqgfflAhU4VBUIHbGmC6oQ6AEIKTAA#v=onepage&q=Kundahl%2C%20George%20G.%20(2017).%20The%20Riviera%20at%20War%3A%20World%20War%20II%20on%20the%20Cote%20d'Azur.%20London%3A%20I.B.%20Tauris.&f=false
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