MONACO (Reuters Life!) - Prince Albert II and Charlene Wittstock are set to marry this weekend in a long-awaited union many see as crucial to upholding the fairy tale image -- and financial clout -- of the tiny city-state on the French Riviera.
Following are some key fact about the nuptials, the couple and the principality of Monaco:
* WHO ARE THEY? -- Albert II, 53, has been the sovereign ruler of Monaco since the death of his father, Prince Rainier III, in 2005. His mother was Grace Kelly, the Oscar-winning Hollywood star. He has two siblings, Princess Caroline and Princess Stephanie.
A five-time Olympic competitor in bobsledding, the head of the House of Grimaldi has sought to cut down on money laundering and bring more transparency to business operations in Monaco.
-- Wittstock, 33, was born in then-Rhodesia in 1978 but emigrated to South Africa with her parents -- a sales manager and former swimming teacher -- at age 12. After winning her first South African swimming championship at age 18, Wittstock came in fifth with her team at the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000. A fan of surfing and hiking, she ended her swimming career in 2007 and has traveled widely for charity events with her fiance.
-- After a civil ceremony on Friday, the couple will be married at 5:00 pm (11 a.m. EDT) on Saturday in a religious wedding in the courtyard of the prince’s Palace, situated atop the Rock of Monaco that overlooks the Mediterranean.
-- Wittstock will wear a Giorgio Armani gown and will be accompanied by six flower children representing the different communes of Monaco.
-- Some 3,500 guests have been invited, and huge television screens around the palace square will broadcast the ceremony live. The couple will then proceed to the nearby chapel of Saint Devote, the patron saint of Monaco, where Wittstock will leave her bouquet. A hybrid Lexus with a transparent roof will then whisk them away.
-- The wedding guest list includes heads of state and royalty from French President Nicolas Sarkozy to the heir to the Spanish throne. The head of the European Commission and the chief executive of luxury brand LVMH are expected to attend, as well as designer Karl Lagerfeld and supermodel Naomi Campbell. Prince William and new bride Kate Middleton have declined the invite, as they will be traveling in Canada.
-- Celebrity Michelin star chef Alain Ducasse, whose portfolio of restaurants includes the lavish Le Louis XV in Monte Carlo, will prepare a dinner that will feature local produce from the country home of the Grimaldi family and milk from cows at the property.
-- Monaco, which covers about 2 square km, or less than 1 square mile, is the world’s smallest independent state after the Vatican City. The city-state is governed by a constitutional monarchy which shares power with an executive branch and national council.
It is surrounded on three sides by France, to which it owes military protection. Members of the House of Grimaldi have ruled the area since 1297 and the rocky cliffs have been the site of many battles.
-- More than 8,000 people hold citizenship of Monaco and are called Monegasques, but the bulk of the 32,000-strong population are outsiders who merely live in the principality. The population of Monaco swells further during the day, as tourists and workers from France and Italy flock in.
-- Residents of Monaco pay no income tax, capital gains tax, housing, real estate or death tax and the principality is known as a banking center. The principality levies fiscal revenues from sales taxes.
-- Monaco is known for its Grand Prix car race held every May and its casino in Monte Carlo. Many yachts harbor at Monaco, and events from charity tennis matches to equestrian competitions are routinely on offer.
Reporting by Alexandria Sage, editing by Paul Casciato