by Tiziana Pavone

MONACO. The Palace Guards, whose history is closely linked to that of the Royal Family, is the successor to several guards, dating back to the Middle Ages. On the occasion of the Monaco National Day, here some historical facts: from 1815, the safety of the Prince and the Palace were ensured by the “Canotiers de la Garde” of His Serene Highness. This was a corps of sailors numbering around 120 men. In Menton, from 1815 public order was maintained by the Garde de Police, which was renamed the Palace Guards on 8 December 1817. This date marks the actual founding of the Palace Guards. Since then, the mission of the Company of Palace Guards has been: To guard the Palace, with a changing of the guard ceremony each day at 11.55 am.

To ensure the security of His Serene Highness the Sovereign Prince and the Princely Family.

To furnish the Sovereign Prince with an honour guard.

To ensure that laws are enforced and contribute to maintaining public order.

The modernisation of the Palace Guards is due to the vision of Prince Rainier III. While maintaining the police service on Place du Palais, during his reign (1949-2005) he gradually withdrew them from guard duty in the city and created a number of specialist functions: a motorcycle troop, a first-aid team,  musicians, a postmaster, protection drivers, scuba divers, etc. The Palace Guards were entrusted with new roles, such as security for visits to the Palace (from 1949) and security for the Prince’s estate at Rocagel starting in the 1960s. The Palace Guards combines a sense of duty with efficiency, and professionalism with exemplary conduct. This prestigious unit which adheres to its motto: “Honour, Loyalty and Devotion”.  In the Principality, the Palace Guards provides an honour guard in full-dress uniform. When requested, it escorts the judiciary. It takes part in official, civil and religious ceremonies, military reviews and parades. The Company currently has 124 men: 3 officers, 5 senior non-commissioned officers, 19 non-commissioned officers and 97 privates. At the heart of the Palace Guards’ role, the Company’s primary mission is guarding the Palace. Article I of the statutes of the Military Force define the Palace Guards’ missions as follows: “Ensure Our safety, guard the Palace, its dependencies, Our properties or residences and furnish Us with honour guard services. Ensure that laws are enforced and contribute to maintaining public order. Execute the missions ordered by Us”. The Prince’s Company of  Riflemen (or Carabiniers from the name of the rifle, carabine) also takes on a variety of public service roles. With the creation of the military first-aid unit, the Palace Guards operates the ambulances of the Monaco Red Cross. In this role, it contributes to the security of major sporting or artistic events in the Principality which require emergency aid and evacuation resources. Where required, it also participates in implementing emergency plans, the Plan Rouge (Red Plan) and the “OR.MO.SE” (Monegasque Emergency Response Organisation) Plan. The force is one of the smallest in the world. Although France is the guarantor of Monaco’s defense, the Carabiniers are equipped and trained to handle everything from soccer riots to terrorist attacks. During the pandemic, for instance, the Princely Government has involved the military in the battle against the disease. Since the outbreak began, soldiers and firefighters have been helping to run the testing centre in the Léo Ferré concert hall.

Working at the heart of the converted concert hall, they have been helping health care workers take blood samples and conduct antibody and PCR tests. So far, they have spent more than 500 hours on site, with two to three members of the military assisting medical teams each day. Before the Coronavirus pandemic, every day just before noon, tourists thronged to the square in front of the salmon-pink prince’s palace to watch the traditional changing of the guard ceremony. Little by little, life is returning to normal in the Principality, traditions are making a comeback and the traditional Changing of the Guard ceremony is taking place again in the Prince’s Palace Square. Although this return is a good sign, the ceremony is nevertheless carried out with preventative measures in mind, the Carabiniers having to wear masks. The public can once again attend the Changing of the Guard every day in the Prince’s Palace Square at 11.55 a.m. Keeping a physical distance and wearing masks are compulsory.  With less than one square mile of space, Monaco is larger only than the Vatican — the world’s tiniest sovereign nation. But its 37,000 inhabitants make it the most densely populated sovereign nation on earth. It is also arguably the richest, with an average per capita income of nearly $180,000. It has the highest proportion of millionaires and billionaires — 1 in 3 residents, officials say. The prince’s company of carabiniers numbers 119 members of all ranks. Together with the 135-strong militarized fire and civil defense corps, the carabiniers form Monaco’s defense forces. Though the constitutional monarchy relies on France, which borders it from three sides, for defense, its army not a ceremonial force. The Prince’s Company of Carabiniers are armed with some real firepower: M16A2 automatic rifles and infantry fighting vehicles such as the MOWAG Piranha V. While their main duty is to protect Prince Albert II and government institutions, the troops are also trained and equipped to deal with more serious challenges, such as terrorist attacks. Its soldiers and non-commissioned officers are either Monegasque or French citizens, but the officers are all French. “Traditionally, many of the rank and file come from villages and towns near Monaco. A colonel is the force’s highest-ranking officer. The average age of the servicemembers is 35. Enlisted men sign five-year contracts and can renew them until they are 50 years old,” said Thomas Blanchy, a spokesman for the palace. NCOs may remain in service until age 55. The few numbers want them to be trained to execute multiple, interesting, and varied roles. Their mission is to serve; this demands unwavering commitment and tireless determination. Self-sacrifice, discretion, and courage guide the Palace Guards to pursue excellence. Although it has a strong attachment to its past, the unit knows how to look forward; it is a modern, dynamic institution that never stands still. The men who make up this institution are proud, modest, disciplined and well-adjusted. “Proudly carrying out the tasks entrusted to us, we the Prince’s Carabiniers actually love to be stationed in Monaco.” said Commander Gilles Convertini, Head of the Palace Guards. A special group called the Sovereign’s Color Guard of Honor, was created in 1997 by Prince Rainier III. The Riflemen have the privilege of Presenting Arms during Monaco’s National Day every November 19th, Fete National, or at other military events designated by the Prince. They perform with or without the Brass Band.

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