The Main Courtyard
The Main Courtyard has always held a special place in the hearts of Monaco's people, since it has traditionally been the setting for major events such as the accession of Princes of Monaco, or the presentation of the children of Princes upon their birth. Every summer, it also plays host to concerts by the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra, one of the most famous orchestras in the world.
It is through the Main Courtyard, covered with a subtle geometric blend of pebbles and stone flagstones, that the inner Palace is accessed. A special calm reigns over these places, probably in honour of the grand marble staircase that lies at its centre.
It was Prince Louis I in the 12th century who decided to build the staircase based on the double revolution staircase at Fontainebleau. Luca Cambiaso (1527-1585), a painter from the Genoa School, decorated the northern wall with depictions such as "The Triumph of Bacchus" and "The Gods of the Sea". In the 19th century, the staircase was restored and each of its thirty-two steps was cut from a single block of Carrara marble. The banisters are decorated with balls of Portor marble.
The walls of the Galerie d'Hercule which overlooks the staircase are covered with brightly covered frescos inspired by artists from the Italian Renaissance. The door in the middle of the gallery leads to the Throne Room in the State Apartments.
In the middle of the 16th century, under the flagstones of the Main Courtyard, a huge tank measuring 1,500 cubic metres for collecting rainwater was sunk into the rock. This system was designed to supply the Palace and city with water for almost a year in the event of a siege.
The Saint Jean-Baptiste Chapel
The Saint Jean-Baptiste Chapel which takes its name from the prophet who announced the coming of Jesus Christ and who baptised him, opens out onto the Main Courtyard. Honoré II (1597-1662) ordered its construction to replace the old oratory located in the Palace wing overlooking the La Condamine district. On 15th October 1656, the Bishop of Nice consecrated the Chapel. After being damaged during the French Revolution, it was restored during the reigns of Princes Florestan I (1785-1856) and Charles III (1818-1889). It is one of six parishes making up the archdiocese of Monaco.
The Principality's patron saint, Saint Dévote, appears on the left part of the chapel's outer wall in the frescos by Jacob Froschle and Deschler d'Asburgo. The depiction of sometimes legendary events from Monaco's history is added on the right.
The baroque style décor inside the chapel was produced by Ernesto Sprega (1829-1911), a Roman painter and ceramicist. He was also responsible for the ceiling in the Galerie des Glaces or Mirror Room and the arches in the Palace dining room. The stained glass window showing "The Judgement of Saint Dévote" was created by the master glassmaker from Chartres, Nicolas Lorin. A beautiful nave of fine proportions and "The Madonna and Child" painted by the master of Narradi (around 1500) feature among the works preserved here.
The Galerie d'Hercule
The Galerie d'Hercule, which overlooks the Main Courtyard and gives entry to the State Apartments, takes its elegance and sophistication from the legacy of the palaces of the Italian Renaissance. Its vaults and walls are decorated with frescos.
The different artistic influences in the Galerie d'Hercule highlight its harmony, subtlety and power. The continuity of the colours and the motifs in the frescos that line the gallery and vaults contrast with the resplendent white of the columns and the marble balustrade. Human and animal figures make up a decor enriched with plant and floral motifs. The lunettes of the fourteen vaults, works by Orazio dei Ferrari, tell of episodes in Hercules' life, from his birth, to his works and ending with his epic death. Between the doors and windows, striking mythological characters by Claude Vignon (1593-1670) are added to the scene, including Antiope, Semiramis, Sphiron and Artemis.
The wedding altar
The altar is from the Visitation Chapel located at the tip of the Rock of Monaco. The Visitation convent was founded in 1663 by Princess Catherine-Charlotte, wife to Louis I. Construction of the Chapel began in 1665, according to the plans by Marc'Antonio Grigho. This Genoese architect born in the region of Lugano also worked on the Princes' Palace, probably designing the double staircase in the main courtyard and the main portal (porta maestra) circa 1675.
The Visitation convent was deconsecrated in 1793 and used as a hospital, prison and barracks, before it became the Jesuit convent and school, then Monaco's public secondary school in 1910 (Lycée Albert Ier today). After a fire in 1858, the Chapel was restored in 1870. Part of the furniture in the Chapel today dates from this time, including this altar, with the Jesuit symbol of the monogram of Christ IHS. The tabernacle door bears the Pascal Lamb.
The processional cross
The silver processional cross is usually kept in the Palatine Chapel (in the Princes' Palace). It was made in 1810 by Xavier Dartes, jeweller, and Caulers, engraver in Montpellier, originally for the White Penitents' Chapel in Lodève (near Montpellier): between the crucifix and staff, a vase with three cherubs in the round; at the intersection of the two branches, the Hebrew tetragrammaton in the triangle of the Trinity; at the extremity, three large bulbs formed by a vase surmounted by the hexagram of the Star of David, with garlands of leaves and flowers on either side; on the upper branch, the inscription INRI (Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews).
The Main Gate
The Main Gate also displays characteristic Renaissance and Baroque features, reinterpreting 16th-century Roman Mannerist models in the curved double entablature punctuated by volutes. The Visitation Chapel is obviously related to Genoese Baroque Mannerism. The grandiose altarpiece against which the altar rests, probably more recent than the Chapel's construction, was inspired by Bernini's Baldachin in Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome.