Monte-Carlo: the birth of a legend
On 14 December 1856, Monaco’s first casino opened its doors in the Villa Bellevue, in the Condamine neighbourhood. The Principality of Monaco was just a poor piece of land then: arid, rural and sparsely populated. It observed with great interest as the first rich Europeans came to settle in the large neighbouring town of Nice.
For Monaco, getting into gambling was a way of trying to develop the business that would later be called ‘tourism’. But the path was full of obstacles. Capital was scarce and the railway, although promising, ended in Nice. This is why the very first tourists who came to Monaco either had to follow a messy dirt road or take a steamboat from Nice to Monaco.
The Société des Bains de Mer
The early days were hard and unproductive until a man came to Monaco to save the day. François Blanc had already successfully developed the casino business in Homburg, a small independent territory next to Prussia.
François Blanc proceeded to build a real casino in Monaco, on the same site that is still occupied by the present-day Casino de Monte-Carlo, on a plot of land that was still wild known as the Plateau des Spélugues.
In 1863, the new casino opened its doors. A new company was set up to run it: the “Société des Bains de Mer et du Cercle des Etrangers à Monaco”. Even today, the Monte-Carlo SBM Group that runs the Monte-Carlo casinos still legally bears this name.
The work required to develop the Plateau des Spélugues was colossal: designing gardens, building roads, planting palm trees, etc. Everything was designed to be as modern, luxurious and extravagant as possible. To provide gaslights in the streets, the height of modern technology, François Blanc even went as far as to finance the construction of a gas plant.
The most decisive infrastructure, however, was undoubtedly the arrival of the railway in 1868, which was also partly financed by François Blanc. The Paris-Monaco line totalling 1,182 km was then the longest railway line in France, and the determining factor that opened Monaco up to the rest of Europe. Built next to the Casino de Monte-Carlo, the Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo had a 30-year head start over its rivals in Nice and Cannes.
The birth of Monte-Carlo
In 1866, after three years of hard labour, it was practically a new town that rose from the ground on the Plateau des Spélugues. It was named Monte-Carlo as a tribute to the sovereign prince, Charles III. The construction was completed, but the legend had only just begun.