The News Weekly World

French Riviera: Following Herakles’ Steps in Monaco

A whole coastline is full of a glamorous lifestyle, and then, there’s the Principality of Monaco, the second-smallest state after Vatican City and the most densely populated sovereign state in the world.

Having a huge reputation due to the various glamorous chapters and big sports events such as the famous Casino of C. Garnier and the Monaco Grand Prix, the state is a synonym of prestige and wealth.

Way before the arrival of the Grimaldi Dynasty, in 1297 AD, during the Bronze Age when Greek Mythology was forged, the greatest of the heroes, mighty Herakles first set foot on these territories.

Since the Archaic Period, Herakles was identified in Punic and Roman culture with Melqarth and Hercules respectively. Greek Historian Diodorus Siculus, states that a much older Herakles existed and he was sprung from Zeus and by inflicting punishment upon the unjust he attained to immortal honor. The ‘’classic’’ Herakles of the Seven Gated Thebes, the son of Alcmene, was born very much later and since he emulated the plan of life of the ancient Herakles, he was thought by men to be the same as the much older one.

Herakles’ 10th task, took place at the End of the World, the farthest points of the continents of Libya and Europe, the today’s Strait of Gibraltar. After possessing the giant Geryon’s cattle in the Iberian Peninsula, he returned to Greece via the northern shore of the Mediterranean, arriving at the site where Rome now stands. Both Greek and Roman Literature informs us that as the hero traversed the mountain pass through the Alps, he made a highway out of the route, the ‘’Herakleian Way’’ that connected Spain to the Italian Peninsula, which bore his name since Antiquity and it was punctuated by little altars dedicated to the demigod. Ancient scholars mention a colony named ‘’Hρακλέους Μονοίκου Λιμήν’’ and ‘’Portus Herculis Monoeci’’. Monoikos in Greek means ‘’single-housed’’ or ‘’the solitary one’’, an epithet probably referring to the hero and a temple was dedicated to him there.

The port was founded by Phocaeans from Minor Asia, in the 7th century BC during one of the biggest events of the Ancient World, the Greek Colonization across the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. It was located on the coast of Liguria at the foot of the Maritime Alps, about ‘’200 stadia from Antipolis’’. It’s described by Strabo as of small size, so as not to admit many and big vessels, but well sheltered. Later, during the Classic Period coins from Marseille, Syracuse, Peloponnesus, and Cyprus prove the port was integrated into trade in the Mediterranean Sea. These relics cause us to estimate that the highest level of activity in the ancient port was around 300 B.C. Julius Caesar himself stopped there in 50 B.C.

Oh yes, you got it well, the above-mentioned location is what we nowadays call the prominent Port Hercule in Monaco Bay, probably the only deep-water port of the French Riviera and the most famous port in the world, embodying excellence glamour, luxury, and of course the most magnificent Superyachts.

No temple to Herakles has been found at Monaco so far, plus the rocky ground and dense conurbation make future excavations unlikely. During Christianization, the altars dedicated to him may have been replaced by chapels dedicated to saints. The old temple could be on the site of the current Saint Devota church, even though recent research suggests that it could have towered up in the mountain overlooking Monaco Bay, even above the Trophy of Augustus on the high peak of La Turbie village.

Augustus himself is equated with Hercules, a hero who spread civilization and opened up roads through the Alps, hence he conferred a divine aura on Augustus, which was emphasized by his, from the Romans’ point of view, similar action with the Alpine tribes.

Monaco honors till these days its legendary founder, through the main port’s name and the beautifully decorated Hercules Gallery in the Court of Honour of Royal Palace. Herakles is a mythical ancestral figure for Greeks, Celts, Romans, and royal dynasties across the Mediterranean, an ancestor that has the capacity to bring nations together through his march and that’s one of his most remarkable characteristics. It seems after all that at Monaco’s territory, he established the encounter of many nations.
By Konstantinos Fais