A VACANCY for head of state has arisen in Europe’s smallest independent territory: the self-proclaimed principality of Seborga on the Italian Riviera (population: 362).
Prince Giorgio I, who has reigned in the Ligurian hillside village for 43 years, said that he had decided to abdicate at the age of 70. His successor will be elected in two months.
During the interregnum Seborga, which was founded in the 11th century, will be run by its parliament — twenty-four priors and eight departmental ministers. Unfortunately for outsiders, the new prince, like the priors, must have been born and baptised in Seborga.
A further drawback is that Italy does not recognise Seborga’s independence, although according to some historians Benito Mussolini, the Fascist dictator, once remarked that Seborga “certainly does not form part of Italy”. It does have its own currency, the luigino, valued at $6, which is accepted in the village shops and bars.
Seborga has its own stamps and a sign at the entrance to the village reads “Principality of Seborga”. It has a patron saint, St Bernard, and a Latin motto, sub umbra sedi (sit in the shade). Its borders are guarded by a local militia and it claims diplomatic relations with 45 states.
The inhabitants, known as “seborghini”, take their status seriously, not least Giorgio I, alias Giorgio Carbone, the former head of the local flower-growers’ co-operative.
In the 1960s Signor Carbone revived Seborga’s independence, noting that it had been a principality of the Holy Roman Empire from 1079 until 1729, when it was acquired by Vittorio Amadeo of Savoy, Prince of Piedmont and King of Sardinia.
He claimed that Seborga had not been listed as a Savoy possession when Italy was united under the Savoy dynasty in 1861. It had, therefore, never been part of the modern Italian state. His fellow citizens agreed, and elected him prince.
On a more generally recognised note, it's interesting that the republic of San Marino is the only survivor of the various kingdoms, principalities and city-states which used to exist on the Italian peninsula.