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Visiting Monaco: commemorating maritime heritage
A naval museum and a Principality's territory defined historically by the sea
One of the fascinating aspects of the way maritime heritage is commemorated in the Principality of Monaco is seen in the rôle of the Naval Museum (Musée Naval de Monaco), situated in the suburb of Fontvieille. The museum — one among many in Monaco — specializes in the display of a large quantity of models of ships from many centuries of history.
When I visited the museum, one of the principal exhibits was an Italian World War Two midget submarine. The Italian navy's use of midget submarines was, from a technical point of view, one of the relatively successful aspects of Italy's military activities in World War Two: Algeciras, on the Mediterranean coast of Spain, was notably a port from which Italian forces used midget submarines in successful action against British shipping in nearby Gibraltar.
In history, the Princes (and, previously, the Lords) of Monaco have had distinguished naval exploits attributed to them. In the Middle Ages, galley ships from Monaco even attacked the English port of Southampton. Some of the Princes of Monaco, among their many titles, have been Admirals of the French navy. Albert I (reigned 1889-1923) was a noted sea explorer, who, together with the King of Portugal, made a number of scientific discoveries in the Azores. Prince Albert also founded Monaco's famous Oceanographic Museum (Musée Océanographique).
Given the impregnable, natural situation of the Rock of Monaco, and until the opening of rail and road links with France in the 19th and early 20th centuries, access to the Principality was traditionally by sea. Thus it was that command of the Rock was historically of strategic significance to the region. Indeed, the difficult terrain separating Monaco from neighbouring France put into context the fact that even in the nineteenth century, prior to 1860, Monaco was a protectorate of Sardinia, then a regional power, rather than France, which now fulfills this rôle.
Thus, Monaco's territory — now only 1/20 of its size prior to 1860 — has in the past been largely defined in relation to the sea, and it is not surprising that Fontvieille, Monaco, is an ideal venue for the Naval Museum.
How to get there: Delta Airlines flies direct from New York to Nice, France (Aéroport Nice Côte d'Azur). Nice airport is a 7-minute helicopter flight from Monaco's heliport (Héliport de Monaco). There are also bus links from the airport to Monaco. The French railroad company SNCF maintains services to Monaco from Downtown Nice. For North American travellers making the London, England area their touring base, airlines flying to Nice include easyJet, from London Luton Airport. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.
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