History of Menton in French Riviera

Sailing ships in Menton harbour, photograph by Jean Gilletta, early 1900s

Menton is a neighborhood in the Alpes-Maritimes district in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region on the French Riviera, adjacent to the Italian border.

Menton has forever been a frontier town. For ages, it formed the border between Genoa and Provence. It has been French ever since the referendum of 1860 CE when it soon became a favored tourist center with gardens and grand mansions. Its typical Mediterranean climate is particularly favorable to the citrus industry, with which it is identified.

History of Menton

The Menton region has been populated since the paleolithic era. It is the site of the original “Grimaldi Man” find of early humans and remains of Cro-Magnons and Neanderthals. In the Roman era, the Via Julia Augusta, a path connecting Piacenza (then Placentia) with Arles (then Arelates), moved through Menton, running along the Rue Longue in the old city.

The earliest significant settlement happened during the 11th century CE when the Count of Ventimiglia built the Podium Pinum( Château de Puypin) on the Pépin hill, west and north of the modern town center.

During the 13th century CE, the Puypin seigneury fell to the Vento family of Genoa, who established a new castle along the Roman street, now the place of the Vieux-Château graveyard presenting the core around which the current city grew. Menton was thus included in the Republic of Genoa. The first mention of Menton dates from 21 July 1262, in the peace treaty between Charles of Anjou and Genoa. Its position on the border between the Republic of Genoa and the Angevin-ruled Provence, which at the time claimed Monaco as its western limit, making it a coveted spot.

In 1848 CE, Menton, along with its neighbor Roquebrune, withdrew from Monaco, due at least in part to a tax imposed on lemon exports. They declared themselves a “free city” during the 1848 CE revolutions related to the Italian Risorgimento. Two years later, Menton placed themselves under the security of the Kingdom of Sardinia, where the House of Savoy administered them for ten years.

The Treaty of Turin ended on 24 March 1860 CE between the Kingdom of Sardinia and Napoleon III’s France called for the addition of the County of Nice to France, subject to a referendum, as a reward for French support in Italy’s war against Austria.

The referendum, with universal adult male suffrage, was held on 15 and 16 April 1860 CE, and resulted in a remarkable vote in favor of annexation (833 for versus 54 against in Menton and Roquebrune), despite accusations of rigged elections from, among others, Nice-born Italian nationalist Giuseppe Garibaldi. The province of Nice was thus annexed to France that June and Napoleon III paid 4 million francs in compensation to the prince of Monaco, who renounced his rights in perpetuity on 2 February 1861 CE.

Menton was the only significant settlement captured by Italy during its French invasion in June 1940 CE. Following the truce of 22 June 1940 CE, two-thirds of the commune’s territory was annexed by the invading Italy as terra irredenta. The occupation lasted until 8 September 1943 CE.

Although precisely returned to Vichy France, Menton was occupied by Nazi Germany until its eventual liberation by Canadian and American troops of the First Special Service Force on 8 September 1944 CE.

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