Is Menton French, Monegasque or Italian? Even if the Italian influence is evident in this pretty French city where the dolce vita and ocher colors dominate, one always wonders if one is in France or in Italy. (I hardly ask myself the question of whether we are in Monaco, because the ugliness, the excess of money and the ambient bad taste of Monaco today hardly seem to have any influence on this pretty and timeless little town).
A statue by Volti welcomes the sailors
Today a border town between France and Italy, Menton has never ceased to impose its existence, between France and Monaco in the West, and Italy in the East.
In the 13th century, the city fell into the hands of a Genoese family – the Ventos. Acquired in 1346 by Charles Grimaldi of Monaco, Menton then remained under Monegasque domination for many centuries, until its annexation to France during the French Revolution.
Monaco, itself dismembered – was finally reunited with Menton in 1814 but in 1815 passed under the protectorate of the King of Sardinia.
In 1848, probably tired of paying Monaco the export tax on its famous lemons, Menton seceded from Monaco and proclaimed itself a free city, nevertheless asking for the protection of the King of Sardinia.
In 1861, Menton, after a plebiscite organized by the city, came out overwhelmingly in favor of joining France.
Following the armistice of 1940, two-thirds of the town were annexed to Italy for three years. During this period, the Italians occupied a deserted city and italianized the city into “Mentone”. The Germans invested the city for a year – from 1943 to 1944 – but the city was finally liberated in September 1944.
Today, the charming seaside town lives off its beauty, its heritage and its Cocteau museum, who loved the town so much that he also painted the town hall’s wedding hall, between 1957 and 1958.
Two atmospheres coexist in Menton: that of the Riviera at the end of the 19th century and the medieval old town.
The lower districts, on the seafront, recall the rise of vacationing during the French Second Empire.
The many stairs lead to the upper town.
The Saint-Michel stairs
The Saint-Michel stairs lead to the Saint-Michel-Archange basilica, whose baroque style is dazzling. Built in 1619, it is the work of a Genoese, Lorenzo Lavagna and its organ dates from 1666.
The Saint-Michel-Archange basilica
The Saint-Michel-Archange basilica shares the Church place with the Chapel of the White Penitents.
The Chapel of the White Penitents
A fortified castle crowned the medieval city and was intended to protect the city from Genoese invaders, pirates and Barbary. Small, low, one-story houses lined the narrow lanes. Over the centuries, these small houses have undergone many transformations, which explains their current state and the presence of broken vaults, elevations and supporting walls. The stairs in some alleys are “donkey-stepped”, because they were easily accessible for animals.
Let’s go up again. The cemetery took the place of the castle, which became a French national property in 1807. The necropolis, incredibly peaceful and poetic, took its final appearance in 1902.
Color dominates everywhere.
The ocher, yellow and old pink facades, the Mediterranean sea with its characteristic blue, the famous sweetness of Menton lemons grown which have been celebrated since 1934 during the Lemon Festival and the annual carnival only speak of one thing: the Italian dolce vita.
In short, you will have understood: in my eyes, Menton is more Italian than French.
Finally, several scenes from “The Barefoot Contessa” by Joseph Mankiewicz were filmed in Menton – in short, I am won over.
July 21, 2023