“The street which celebrates the fame of General de Bréa, a native of Menton, led me to old Menton. This rather narrow street already looks striking with its high, pallid and coarse walls, its overhanging roofs and its doors which open onto dark corridors revealing patches of greenery”.
Jean Moreas (1856-1910).
From Puypin to Menton
Podium Pini or Puypin, the cradle of Menton, is mentioned in 1146 for the first time and has never been accurately located. Menton appears a century later. Its foundation may have triggered by the displacement of Puypin from its original site, the hill of the Annonciade, towards the sea. It was a lordship of a feudal type which belonged to the Genoese family of the Ventos. In April 1346 it was bought by Charles Grimaldi, lord of Monaco. The town shared its history with the possessions of the Grimaldis, Menton was included in the treaty establishing the Spanish protectorate in 1524. A century later in 1641, the Treaty of Peronne set up the French protectorate over the Principality of Monaco.
From the Principality of Monaco to France
On January 19, 1793, the principality was annexed to France, and Menton became one of the towns forming the department of the Alpes Maritimes. At the fall of the First Empire, the Grimaldis were restored to their possessions. In March 1848, Menton and Roquebrune seceded from Monaco and proclaimed themselves “free towns under the protection of the kingdom of Sardinia”. With the Treaty of Paris of February 2, 1861, Menton was annexed to France and once again became part of the department of the Alpes Maritimes now enlarged by the annexation of the Comté de Nice.
The two World Wars
During the First World War, most of the hotels were turned into military hospitals. During the last war, the town was occupied by the Italians and subsequently by the Germans. It was liberated on September 8, 1944, and yet was to suffer bombardments till the Armistice was signed 8 months later. Then it slowly recovered from its wounds and only regained its former aspect in the 1960s.
Honoré II, Prince and Builder
Born in 1597, Honoré II succeeded his father Hercule I in 1604. In 1612, he took the title of prince. Three years later, he settled in Menton to escape the Spanish authorities who had occupied Monaco. On February 13, 1616, he married Hippolyte Trivulce. On September 14, 1641, he signed the Treaty of Peronne with Louis XIII by which the King of France granted his protection to the principality. Honoré II, with the support of his subjects, turned out the Spanish troops on the night of November 17, 1641. His was a full life which ended in 1662.
Menton : a health resort
In the course of the winter 1859, a physician born in Manchester, J.H. Bennet discovered Menton. Back in London in 1861, miraculously recovering from tuberculosis, Doctor Bennet published a book in which he promoted the new-born resort. From then on, each early autumn, whole families from England and later from Northern Europe were to spend the winter on the shores of the Golfe de la Paix. The railway promoted this new trend. On the brink of the First World War, Menton could offer its visitors 75 hotels and hundreds of villas surrounded with gardens conjuring up the tropics and the Southern Hemisphere.
Around 1919, Menton was primarily a health resort. The French law initiating holidays with pay helped the revival of the town. The winter season receded and gave place to sun loving summer tourism. Many famous visitors had stayed in Menton and enjoyed its climate and vegetation. The world of art and literature was represented by F. Bac, Vicente Blasco Ibanez, Jean Cocteau, Gustave Flaubert, Katherine Mansfield, George Sand, Paul Valéry... and the town welcomed Empress Eugénie, Queen Victoria, Queen Astrid, presidents Krüger, Coty, Tardieu and again Albert I and Leopold III, Kings of Belgium...
The preservation area of Menton
Menton has delineated a preservation area since 2001. It includes the medieval town rising in steps up the hillside and its extension to the west along the ancient Roman road : the area of Ciapetta, the port, the Rue Saint-Michel and the Rue de Bréa. The old town has a homogeneity and below it the arcaded buildings along the sea road have great architectural interest and blend superbly with the old town above.