Monaco is the second-smallest independent state in the world. It is a playground for tourists and a haven for the wealthy, the former drawn by its climate and the beauty of its setting and the latter by its advantageous tax regime.
The country - a constitutional monarchy - is surrounded on three sides by France and occupies just under two square kilometres (0.75 sq mile) of the Cote d'Azur, where the Alpes Maritimes meet the Mediterranean.
Tourism drives Monaco's economy; gamblers flock to the Place du Casino in Monte-Carlo and every May the principality hosts the Monaco Grand Prix.
The country is a major banking centre and closely guards the privacy of its clients.
But it has also been the focus of French concerns about its tax policy and has been accused of tolerating money-laundering - claims it strongly denies.
The principality was identified as a tax haven by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 2003. It was subsequently placed on the OECD's blacklist of uncooperative tax havens, remaining there until 2009.
Monaco does not levy income tax on its residents.
Francois Grimaldi, the royal dynasty's 13th century founder
The royal dynasty, the Grimaldi family, is inseparable from Monaco's existence. The royals made world headlines in 1956 when the former monarch Prince Rainier III married the American film star Grace Kelly. But the personal lives of the couple's daughters, Caroline and Stephanie, had a less welcome press.
Within the executive, the monarch nominates and is represented by a Minister of State who leads a five-member Council of Government which governs Monaco under royal authority. A 24-member National Council to which elections are held every five years exercises legislative power.
Prince Albert took over as head of state following the death of his father, Prince Rainier, in April 2005. His swearing-in, in July, followed a three-month period of mourning.
Prince Rainier was Europe's longest-reigning monarch. He worked to reduce Monaco's reliance on tourism and gambling by attracting business. He staunchly defended Monaco's banking and taxation systems in the face of criticism from France.
It will be for Prince Albert - who says he wants to attract high-tech industry to Monaco - to carry this work forward. The prince says he will seek to cement the idea that money-laundering in the country is a thing of the past.
Prince Albert, who was 47 at the time of his father's death, is an accomplished sportsman.
His bachelorhood prompted a change to the constitution to allow the Grimaldi dynasty, which has ruled Monaco for seven centuries, to continue through the female line. Prince Albert is the 32nd ruler.
He married South African-born former Olympic swimmer Charlene Wittstock in July 2011.
He has acknowledged that he is the father of two children born out of wedlock to different mothers. Neither will have any right to succeed to the throne.
Born in 1958, Prince Albert was educated in Monaco and the US. He served in the French navy for a time.
The influence of Monaco's broadcast media extends far beyond the borders of the tiny state. From the 1960s Radio Monte-Carlo used powerful transmitters to reach listeners across much of France, and in the 1970s broadcasts to Italy began. Radio Monte-Carlo now has extensive FM networks in both countries.
Monte-Carlo Doualiya - a service for the Arab world set up in 1972 - is now based in Paris and operated by Radio France Internationale.
Television's great and good gather in Monaco every year for the Monte-Carlo Television Festival, set up in 1961 by Prince Rainier.
No daily newspapers are published in Monaco, but French papers cover news from the principality.
There were nearly 30,000 internet users by June 2011 (Internetworldstats).
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