Wandering the Micro-Nation of Seborga
A real prince presides over piazzas, robed knights, and windy roads in the tiny ‘country’ of Seborga.
Seborga’s narrow alleyways are like rivers running through the “country.” www.PrincipatoDiSeborga.com, www.Seborga.tv/en/
High in the Ligurian Alps overlooking the Riviera, Seborga is irresistibly quaint. Its medieval archways are haunted by stray cats and huge, jelly-bean-green dragonflies, nearly silent but for church bells and the clack of soles on stone. Some, including the Italian government, might call it a village.
Seborga, however, calls itself a country.
Studying the town charter during the late 1950s, local gardener Giorgio Carbone noted that the will of a 10th-century nobleman granted sovereignty to Seborga’s Benedictine monastery and some surrounding territory. In 1079, Pope Gregory VII and Emperor Henry IV declared Seborga an Imperial Principality of the Holy Roman Empire with the monastery’s abbot as its prince. Noting that Seborga’s sale to Vittorio Amedeo II, King of Sardinia, in 1729 went unregistered and that Italy’s 1861 Act of Unification doesn’t mention Seborga, Carbone promptly declared himself His Serene Highness Giorgio I.
Sealing the deal, his fellow villagers elected him Prince of Seborga in 1963, declaring these few steep, stone-paved streets a sovereign nation on par with Vatican City or Monaco—or, for that matter, France.
Giorgio remained head of state until he died, childless, in 2009. His successor, huge-foreheaded hosiery heir Marcello Menegatto, was elected, then crowned, in 2010. Today, Prince Marcello presides over a court of white-robed knights. He makes announcements via Seborga TV. He appoints diplomats: Last December, Prince Marcello named businessman S.P. Singh Oberoi as Seborga’s official consul general in India. The ceremony, held in Seborga and overseen by a formally clad Indian delegation, was solemnly covered by Indian media.
Seborgan coins, known as luigini—which you can buy, using euros, at Seborga’s souvenir shops—depict its heads of state.
And although Burkina Faso has recognized Seborga as an independent nation since 1998, Italy staunchly refuses to do so.
As you enter the village—uh, principality—through the Piazza Martiri Patrioti with its rustic 13th-century Oratory of San Bernardo, you’ll pass a wooden sentry booth painted the snow-white and sky-blue of Seborga’s “national” flag, which flutters from nearly every archway and wall. Stroll this twisty-turny, holy-grottoed honeycomb amongst Campari-sipping, scooter-driving villagers who eat linguini-like trenette pasta, long-cooked rabbit stew, and chickpea-sized Taggiasche olives amidst palms and pines at Seborga’s several mellow risto-bars and who, separatist or not, pay Italian taxes (in euros) and vote in Italian elections. A tiled Templar cross adorns the Piazza San Martino, recalling those knights—yes, of The Da Vinci Code fame—who once held court here. Set into a city wall, a still-intact medieval prison cell looms menacing and dank as if awaiting its next strangler or heretic. Unobtrusive from the outside, Seborga’s engaging musical-instrument museum houses dozens of rare antique gramophones and such marvels as the half-brass, half-keyboard “harmoniflute.”
Wandering these shady streets, gazing down green slopes to the sparkling, yacht-studded Mediterranean, nibbling local ladyfinger biscuits, you might be doing all these things in a separate nation of which none of your friends has ever heard.
Or you might not.