The Italian Almanac

entering Seborga

Italian News - August 19

Tourists ran after Giorgio Carbone as he crossed a square in the village of Seborga in northern Italy. They all wanted pictures of the nondescript man with the greying beard, tired-looking eyes and simple suit. That's because Carbone is, in fact, Prince Giorgio I of Seborga, a former flower seller dedicated to promoting this mediaeval village's claim of independence.

At first sight, Seborga is a typical picture postcard village on the Italian Riviera with minute squares and narrow streets meandering beneath an imposing bell tower. But a sign proclaiming "Welcome to the Principality of Seborga" and blue-and-white striped flags fluttering from its buildings set it apart from the other villages dotting the coastline between Genoa and the French border. "We are the oldest principality in the world," said Carbone, who peppers his speech with swear words, making tourists blush and earning him the nickname "Sua Tremendita" or "Your Tremendousness" among the villagers.

Seborgans believe their independent history dates back to 954 when the counts of nearby Ventimiglia gave the land to Benedectine monks who established a sovereign Cistercian state. When the monks sold Seborga to the King of Savoy and Sardinia in 1729 the deal was not registered, local historians say. Since then, Seborga has been missing from historical records, including the acts of the unification of Italy in 1861 and the formation of the Italian Republic in 1946.

Carbone's years of research into Seborga's past finally convinced the villagers to elect a prince in 1963. Despite his lack of royal blood and gruff ways, Carbone's dedication to the cause made him a natural choice. Seborga's go-it-alone aspirations find an echo in a string of tiny principalities across Europe. Just along the coast from the Italian village is the city-state of Monaco, ruled by the Grimaldi dynasty for more than seven centuries.

Giorgio I is planning no revolution. His mission is to create a state free of crime, corruption and other vices, not to stop Seborga's 300 inhabitants from paying Italian taxes or voting for the national parliament. Nonetheless, Seborga now has its own constitution, government, parliament and court. It mints own coin -- a Luigino, which is fixed at $6.00 and which circulates within the principality alongside the Euro. Seborga issues passports and car number plates, also valid only within its limits.

Mayor Franco Fogliarini said the influx of curious visitors to Seborga had increased over the last 10 years as news of its independence claim spread. "The whole story was born like a game," said Fogliarini, recalling that as a boy he and his friends used to dress up in mediaeval costumes, set up a roadblock on the way to the village and issue special passes for tourists. Now the mayor hopes that Seborga's story of independence will attract tourists, boost its budget and create jobs.

International law experts say Seborga's claim to be an independent state is not valid because it does not exercise state authority on its territory in the region of Liguria. Local historian Marco Cassini doubted that Seborgans wanted true independence anyway. "Like people from all small towns in Liguria, Seborgans have a strong local pride and an independent spirit," Cassini said. "They have a unique history and they have just been smart enough to take advantage of it and attract tourists".