Golden years: The legacy of elegant gala balls in Monaco

The ladies glitter in pearls and jewels with gowns of lace, silk and satin, and they arrive hand-in-hand with gentlemen dressed in the finest tailoring money could buy… grand balls have been a celebrated part of Principality life for over a century, thanks to Monte-Carlo Société des Bains de Mer. 

What an experience it was to attend the 2023 Bal du Centenaire on 20th October, a tribute to the late Prince Rainier III, who loved the pomp and ceremony of a night spent dancing beneath chandeliers and clinking crystal glasses filled to the brim with champagne with his wife Princess Grace, friends and family.

The ball revived a long-standing tradition by Monte-Carlo Société des Bains de Mer of hosting the most elaborate balls in its most glamorous institutions, for the purpose of socialising at an elite level, but also to raise important funds for charity. 


Balls are nothing new to Monaco. For over a century, the ballrooms of the Principality have been a place for Monaco’s most esteemed to celebrate, have fun and show off.  

The Bal du Jardin Merveilleux in 1925, photo source: Archives de Monte-Carlo SBM


The Bal du Jardin Merveilleux was held on 6th March 1925. Organised by the French painter and the reputed inventor of the ‘pin-up girl’, Jean-Gabriel Domergue, at the Casino de Monte-Carlo, the event was appropriately themed for the coming spring season.  

The posters erected in the run-up declared, “The ladies will adorn themselves with dresses in floral tones, with beaded embroidery, and their hairstyles will be able to borrow their brilliance from flowers.”  

It was a huge success. 


The Bal de le Rose was first held in 1954 under the creative eye of the then-Artistic Director of the Société des Bains de Mer, Henry Astric.  

His event was a bit of a gamble. The 1950s were a time of the foxtrot, samba and mambo, but Astric’s plan was to hold a gala featuring the waltz, then considered an old-fashioned dance.  

Luckily for him, the crowd was game and the night was a roaring hit. It was certainly helped along by the 100 violinists providing entertainment throughout the night and the simply stunning decorations: thousands of roses, a favourite of the newly-married new Princess Grace.  

The Rose Ball is still a staple of Monaco’s gala circuit, with roughly 1,000 guests from around the world attending each year, including, of course, the Grimaldis, the Princely family of Monaco.  


For the Bal de l’Opéra on 8th February 1959, the Salle Garnier was emptied and a vast floor built at the level of the stage. It involved a lavish dinner, which was attended by Prince Rainier III and Princess Grace, that was followed by a musical dance show that then turned into a dance party for guests, who took to the stage to trip the lights fantastic.  

Bal du Second Empire 1966, in the Opera Garnier, photo: Archives de Monte-Carlo SBM


Another iconic date in the history of balls in Monaco is 27th May 1966, when the Bal du Second Empire was held. It transported invitees back in time to the 19th century to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Monte-Carlo as well as the death 150 years before of Napoléon III. 

Hosted by Hélène Rochas, the Salle Garnier, the Casino Atrium and the Casino Terraces were transformed by designer André Levasseur, who created a double staircase specially for the occasion, providing direct access to the terraces from the Salle Garnier. 


To mark the reopening of the Salon de l’Europe, the Grand Bal Paré 1900 was held on 16th March 1968; the site had been newly restored by Monaco’s favourite production and costume designer, André Levasseur.  

The event was attended by Princess Grace and Prince Rainier, with a sumptuous dinner served on the Casino Atrium. It was covered widely in the international media, and radio and television crews were there to share the moment with millions around the world.  

The Bal des Têtes 1969, photo: Archives de Monte-Carlo SBM


The Bal des Têtes, held on 15th March 1969, was the renamed version of the Bal Paré. It was timed with the opening of André Levasseur’s latest triumph, the Casino’s Salle des Amériques, but actually took place in the Salon d’Europe.  

The night oozed elegance and extravagance, but above all fun; some 560 guests arrived dressed up a variety of historical figures, from Bacchus to the Empress of Iran, the Great Catherine of Russia, Caesar and Cleopatra, Hindu princes, and various Marquises of the 18th century.  

Prince Rainier and Princess Grace were Chinese Emperor and Empress, and Italian actress Sophia Loren came as the Goddess of the Sea, with her sister joining her as the Goddess of the Clouds. 


The 1970 Nuit de la Rose saw the Salle Garnier transformed into the Palace of the Thousand and One Nights. Another confection by Levasseur, there were 40 balloon chandeliers and 10,000 roses adorning the site. The stage was converted into a music hall stage, where French soprano Mady Mesulé was the star of the evening.  

See more in the gallery below. Photos: Archives de Monte-Carlo SBM…



Photos/Video: SBM hosts exceptional Centenary Ball in tribute to Prince Rainier III



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All photo credits: Monte-Carlo Société des Bains de Mer