There are two independent territories in Italy, the Vatican City and the Republic of San Marino. And then there is the self-proclaimed state of Seborga…
There’s a tiny village in Liguria that calls itself a separate state within Italy’s borders, just like the Vatican and San Marino. And the cool thing is that locals don’t really care if the Italian government keeps ignoring their claims. They have a flag, a royal family, an army and even their own currency!
What’s the story
It all started in the year 954, when the local counts of Ventimiglia handed the village over to the Benedictine monks of Lerins, a small island off the coast of Cannes in France. Then, in 1079 Seborga became an imperial principality of the Holy Roman Empire, with the monastery’s abbot as its prince.
Centuries later, in 1729, the monks sold Seborga to the King of Sardinia, who, according to the sale act, bought it as a personal property and not as an expansion of his kingdom. As such, Seborga was never legally part of the Kingdom of Sardinia and locals claimed that the act of unification of Italy in 1861 annexed Seborga “unilaterally and illegitimately”.
It wasn’t until the early 1960’s that sovereignty was restored in Seborga thanks to Giorgio Carbone, a local flower grower. After browsing through some historic documents from the Vatican archives, Mr. Carbone started a campaign to prove Seborga’s legal independence and obtain formal international recognition. A local election took place in 1963 and villagers appointed Mr. Carbone as ruler of Seborga, with the title of His Tremendousness Prince Giorgio I. He set up a crown council and wrote a constitution, ruling until his death in 2009. He was succeeded by Prince Marcello Menegatto and his wife Nina, who serves as foreign minister of Seborga.
Although formal recognition was never obtained, Mr. Carbone’s campaign worked magic for tourism. The story of Seborga hit the headlines of international press and prince Marcello and his wife were even formally received by Queen Elizabeth in 2011! Seborga also earned the Italian Touring Club’s Orange Flag, a prestigious recognition of tourism quality and excellence, in 2009.
The Italian government continues to ignore Seborga’s separatist claims and maintains jurisdiction over the village. The Seborghini (as locals are called) pay taxes to Italy and vote in its elections.
What to see
The first thing you see while approaching the village from the road is a wooden sentry booth painted in white and blue, the official colors of Seborga. From this point you are no longer on Italian soil – at least according to Seborga’s 300 inhabitants!
At the entrance of the village stands the XIV-century Oratory of San Bernardo, a little church dedicated to St. Bernard, the patron of Seborga.
The heart of Seborga is the tiny Piazza San Martino with the brightly colored Church of San Martino and the Monks’ Palace, a beautiful stony building that was the ancient residence of the Benedictine monks and home to the old mint.
Rows of old stone dwellings squeezed to one another dot the tiny cobbled streets and alleyways leading to the ancient prison and the grotto dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
There is also a popular museum of musical instruments displaying over 130 antique pieces from 1744 to 1930. This is the collection of Mr. Fogliarino, who gathered them over 50 years. The museum is open every day (except Mondays) 10am-1pm and 2:30pm-6pm.
The visit can be concluded at the Chapel of St. Giusta, with panoramic views of the village and the Mediterranean sea.
Seborga has its own currency, the Luigino, which started to be minted in 1666 by the Benedictine monks and then restored in the 1990’s by Prince Giorgio I. The name derives from the currency used in France in the XVII century, the louis. It has no legal value but you can purchase some coins at the local shop and use them in the village. Check out the exchange rate here.
The Prince is assisted by nine ministers (five elected by the Seborghini and four chosen by the sovereign) and is protected by a squad of blue-bereted guards called Corpo della Guardia. He’s even opened a series of representative offices abroad, including the US, Argentina, Australia and India.
Seborga has also its own license plates, which can only be used together with the official Italian ones, as well as a national anthem written by Prince Giorgio I (check it out at the bottom of this page). Oh, and you can become an honorary citizen for a mere €2.50, the cost of a Seborga passport!
And finally, the principality is very active in the promotion of sports, with the creation of an Olympic committee and the establishment of a national football team that plays against other micro-nations (both are unrecognized by the official sport institutions, though).
- Seborga lies at the top of a twisty road that sneaks through the Ligurian Alps. It’s just 20kmfrom the French border and can be easily reached by car from Bordighera in about 30 minutes. Alternatively, you can catch a bus from Bordighera train station (line 10, check this website for the current schedule)
- August 20 is Seborga’s National Day. Locals celebrate their patron saint St. Bernard with a religious procession, a music concert and a parade through the streets of the village that is all dressed up in white and blue
- Another great event to attend is the annual beer festival “Seborga Tutta Birra” which takes place in late September, with barbecues, live music and lots of craft beers
- There are a number of cute restaurants and trattorias in Seborga, with Marcellino’s being the most glamorous option (it was opened by Prince Marcello himself)
Until next time,