2. But of course, Your Tremendousness
Here are some satellite views of several of the world’s smallest countries
— or at least, territories whose administrators can claim sovereignty with at
least a modicum of sincerity and credibility.
The largest of these, quite incontestably independent and sovereign, is
THE PRINCIPALITY OF ANDORRA
at 468 km2 (181 mi2) or about the size of New Orleans.
It lies in the Pyrenees on the border between Spain and France at an average
altitude of 1000 meters (3300 feet) and currently enjoys the world’s highest
average life expectancy of 83.52 years. Most of Andorra’s income derives from
tourism and banking, and quite unusually among prosperous nations it observes no
patent laws. Nor does it extradite. The view you see here is a close-up of its capital district, Andorra
At 61 km2 (24 mi2)
was the world’s smallest republic for over 1600 years until 1968 when Nauru
[just below] gained independence. It’s entirely engulfed by Italy and
landlocked but only about 10 km (6 miles) from the western shore of the Adriatic,
close to the city of Rimini and the Frederico Fellini Airport. San Marino’s
population is 30,000 but it hosts a hundred times that many tourists each year.
The Sammarinese calendar initialized at 301 ce, so at least in theory that makes it
1718 there. Many of its natives speak a Romance language
called Emiliano-Romagnolo, said to be very distinct from Italian and not descended from it.
|San Marino’s Guard of the Rock border patrol|
Far tinier and funkier is
THE REPUBLIC OF NAURU
at 21 km2 (8.1 mi2, 5200 acres). For 90-plus years Australia,
Great Britain, and New Zealand strip-mined the island for phosphate and turned it
into a virtual moonscape. With the phosphate now gone there is no longer any other
exportable resource to speak of and the poverty-stricken residents have long since
grown obese, diabetic, and hypertensive on a diet centered around Spam and
Then along came the CIA. Shut down your money-laundering banks, set up a
phony embassy in Beijing as a kind of underground railroad for North Korean
defectors (especially nuclear scientists), and help us spy on China in
countless ways. In return we’ll reforest your island,
build resort hotels and golf courses and create nothing less than a South
Pacific paradise on earth. Nauru’s then-president Bernard Dowiyogo thought that
sounded great so he closed down all the banks and at great expense installed
the espionage infrastructure, then flew to Washington and signed all the papers,
and then died there shortly thereafter.
Time passed. When Nauru asked Washington what was taking them so long, the
answer was “What deal?” Now Nauru and Australia are suing
the US government and the CIA over the mess — which, incidentally, had
been code-named Operation Weasel. Oliver North of Iran-Contra infamy has offered
Next, at 5 km2 (1.9 mi2, 1200 acres), we have a village perched above the Italian Riviera billing itself as
THE PRINCIPALITY OF SEBORGA.
No country recognizes its sovereignty except in a tongue-in-cheek way, though it can cite
historical precedents involving the usual dukes and bishops for this dating back to the
tenth century. Its head of state is sailor/pilot/leotard manufacturing heir Prince
Marcello Menegatto. Like any respectable microstate Seborga flies its own flag and issues
its own stamps and coins, though its citizens still pay taxes to Italy and vote in its
elections. It does very well for itself hosting tourists (See a whole country in a day!)
and exporting olives and flowers such as mimosa and Scotch broom.
Perhaps the biggest single problem Seborga faces are scam artists who
falsely identify themselves with the Principality on the Internet and
elsewhere in order to hawk various memorabilia and worthless college
diplomas. For the record, Seborga has no secondary schools or colleges and
does not accredit them. The two main genuine Seborgan sites are La Gazzetta di Seborga and Principality of Seborga.
Late update: It appears principalityofseborga.org now redirects to a French(?) language site claiming a different, Menegatto-less regime in Seborga headed by a writer named Nicolas Mutte (styled as “Nicholas I”) and proffering a revisionist history of the Principality. As far as I
can ascertain, the real Seborga site is still www.principatodiseborga.com. Check out this article from Riviera insider.
Smaller yet but of course recognized world-wide is
at 1.95 km2 (0.76 mi2, 485 acres). The name derives from
Heracles Monoekos, “Hercules dwelling alone,” since this was supposedly
where Hercules exiled himself after going postal and killing his children.
famous as an ultra-swank tourist attraction, retired millionaire playground and tax
haven. But when Prince Ranier III ascended the throne in 1949 it was virtually
bankrupt and relying on its casino for 95% of its income. Despite what James Bond fans
might assume, gambling now contributes only about 3% to the Principality’s
annual Gross National Product. Monaco and Seborga are within sight of one another
and Monaco (if no other country) accepts Seborga’s currency.
Olympic gold medal rower Jack Kelly, now best remembered as Princess Grace’s dad, did his part to cushion the impact
of her sybaritic clothing tastes on the Principality’s treasury. Shortly before he
died in 1960, having previously forked over a $2 million dowry, he stipulated in his will:
I don’t want to give the impression that I am against sons-in-law. If they are
the right type, they will provide for themselves and their families, and what I am
able to give my daughters will help pay the dress shop bills, which, if they
continue as they started out, under the able tutelage of their mother, will be
Adjacent to the city of Rome’s historic center,
comes next at 0.44 km2 (0.17 mi2, 109 acres). The view you see
here emphasizes St Peter’s Basilica and its square, which enjoyed the supreme
fortune of being designed by the likes of Michelangelo, Raphael, Gian Lorenzo
Bernini, and Donato Bramante during western art’s most extravagantly
The bones of many first century Romans, supposedly St. Peter among them,
plus a number of cows and sheep, were found far beneath its crypt and
scrutinized between 1939 and 1949. Since some of the fragments appeared to have
been wrapped in fabric bearing traces of tyrian purple dye, Pius XII inferred
that those were indeed Peter's and announced as much on Christmas of 1950. Back
upstairs, money was no object and no filigree was spared; but many cast a
jaundiced eye toward this stupefying masterpiece in view of the fact that it
was largely financed from the sale of indulgences — the
cash-for-ticket-to-heaven thing Martin Luther decried during the Protestant
And finally, also in Rome but on the other side of the Tiber at Via dei
Condotti 68 (the street passing diagonally from left to right across the
center of the view) we have the headquarters of
The SOVEREIGN MILITARY ORDER OF MALTA.
SMOM enjoys permanent observer status in the United Nations but as an
extraterritorial state it claims no acreage.
|Siege of Antioch (Gustave Doré)|
The Order arose in Jerusalem as the
Knights Hospitaller in 1050 to treat sick and injured pilgrims. Its fortunes
and waxed and waned in step with the Christian incursions in that region,
and in 1150 it fled northward to the area of modern Lebanon and then to the
island of Rhodes where it absorbed the assets of the Knights Templar and
built up a formidable naval force.
The Hospitallers successfully fended off a couple of invasions there but
finally met their match in 1522, outnumbered 30 to 1 by the Ottomans under
Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent. We next see them in Sicily, briefly, before
settling in Malta under the authority of Charles V of Spain who charged for
rent a “Maltese falcon” annually. (In this case it was a live bird, though,
likely a Brook’s peregrine, not the bric-a-brac in the Bogart film.)
From Malta they suffered their final expulsion, at the hands of
Napoleon, in 1798. Today SMOM counts 12,500 official members and around
100,000 volunteers consisting of doctors, nurses, and relief workers who aid
victims of natural disasters, wartime displacement and persecution, epidemic
diseases, and any and all other circumstances contributing to
human suffering. SMOM’s current Grand Master is Fra’ Matthew Festing.
If you’re curious, here are national anthems for five of the above:
Andorra [440 k],
San Marino [427 k],
Monaco [1.3 M],
Vatican City [5.9 M],
and The Sovereign Military Order of Malta [Youtube video].
Next: Is this ALL I’m getting for Christmas?
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© 2008 Peter Blinn