A story of how one city attained spectacular wealth and luxury.
In his first book, about “how we create places largely through the stories we tell about them,” Braude (History and Urban Studies/Stanford Univ.) takes us on a brisk historical tour of the marketing and selling of the small principality of Monaco and its famous city. At just under 500 acres, about half the size of Central Park, it had few resources, but it did have a beautiful mountain setting and a majestic Mediterranean harbor. After being tossed around by the Greeks, Romans, and various tribes, it finally became Monaco in 1297. In 1855, when Princess Caroline decided it might find success with a casino, Prince Florestan legalized gambling—the only country along Europe’s southern coast to do so. When it added a spa resort as a “façade,” it was ready to welcome the world to gambling. After the casino license was sold to the Blanc brothers, successful entrepreneurs from Germany, they had the municipality’s name changed to Monte Carlo. They opened Le Grand Casino de Monte Carlo in 1858, and François Blanc did a masterful job of publicizing it, especially via international newspaper print advertising. People first experienced the resort “from a distance, as an abstract idea rather than a reality.” A new railway made the resort’s pleasures easily accessible, and in 1924, Jean Cocteau and Serge Diaghilev’s Le Train bleu added to Monte Carlo’s luster. A sickly Karl Marx, who detested gambling, came because his doctor prescribed it. A famous gambler also came and lost, and the popular song about him, “The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo,” added to the resort’s mystique. William Vanderbilt and J.P. Morgan arrived on their yachts, Edvard Munch came to paint, and Oscar Wilde escaped legal woes. A Sporting Club was added, and in 1911, the city had its first Automobile Rally—spectacle indeed.
A well-researched, dramatic rags-to-riches urban tale.