* Between The Sea (the Med) and The Alps -- {Pronounce: ontruh la mair eh lay zalp}

Saturday, September 20, 2014

A wannabee Principality

Seborga 01

Before its unification in 1861, Italy was divided into a number of city-states, such as Venice and Florence.  A micro-nation just across the Italian border from France, Seborga had a medieval historic importance during the 10-18th centuries, being possibly the first principality in the Holy Roman Empire.  Doc Leo thought this would be a great destination on our recent little Italian vacation, and I thought you might like to visit it with us.

As always, please click on the small photos to enlarge them so that you can get a better feel of the ambiance they are portraying.

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Seborga in situ
Although all of the Rock Villages have their own personalities while seemingly looking all the same, this is the view we had of Seborga on our route.

The Alps in the background are separating Italy from France; the Med is just a few miles of very winding road off camera to the left.

Seborga has a rather fascinating history, still ongoing, the knowledge of which I hope you will find totally enriching.  Not only has it been written up in various international publications, but just this month HuffPo did an article on it, less than two weeks after we were there!

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Seborga up close and personal (the Doc says it looks like a model set)

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An official warm welcome
Seborga was first a Roman settlement (was there anywhere on the Continent that did not end up a Roman settlement?) and then a stronghold of the Knights Templars.  In 1079, Pope Gregory VII and Emperor Henry IV declared Seborga an Imperial Principality of the Holy Roman Empire.

Over the years, the town was supposedly sold to other powers, but records of the sale have never been found.  When Italy unified, the town was not mentioned, thus it declares that it's never been an actual part of Italy.

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Vehicle country code sticker
In the 1960's, probably as a tourism gimmick or for an ego trip, they tried to reclaim their title.  In the late 1950s, a local gardener named Giorgio Carbone, head of the local flower-growers cooperative, got the town of 362 citizens all excited about their history and managed to get himself elected Prince of Seborga by the villagers in 1963.  His official title was His Serene Highness Giorgio I, but he graciously accepted being referred to as His Tremendousness. 

He ruled until his death in 2009.  His obituary in the New York Times is really quite a fun read, including stating that “He took to the throne with panache, wearing sash, sword and large rosette medallions as he held court at the Bianca Azurra bar.”  His successor, Swiss-born hosiery heir Marcello Menegatto, was crowned Marcello I in 2010.

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National flags in the breeze
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The Doc standing guard

The town has developed its own flag, currency, crest, and an army of one, with a guardhouse at the border.  The Latin motto on its coat of arms, sub umbra sede, means “sit in the shade.”

While more than 20 countries have recognized the independent state of Seborga in one way or another, including Burkina Faso since 1998 and Queen Elizabeth of England receiving them formally in 2011, Italy continues to ignore their claims to independence.

Seborga was granted 'irrevocable independence' in 954 AD by the Counts of Ventimiglia. The citizens of Seborga maintain that they remain independent.

So, now that I have explained the wonderful history of this old town, walk with me as we explore how the town appears today.

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Oratory of San Bernardo XIII century

At the entrance to the town is the Chapel of San Bernardo, their patron saint.  Their National Day is celebrated on August 20, the anniversary of the death of San Bernardo, which probably explains why we saw all kinds of festive remnants just a couple of weeks later. 

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Templar Shield
The chapel dates to 1258 AD and has stone mosaics on the parvis representing the town's Templar heritage.

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Medieval Oratory of San Bernardo with modern scooter

It's really quite pretty from the back; and being in Italy, it has the obligatory scooter parked nearby. 

Despite the low light inside, I was really pleased how well the no-flash tablet camera was able to capture it. 

Not only was the chapel itself quite pretty, but the ceiling had a really nice painting, and there was this lovely old piece of furniture that unfortunately wasn't labeled as to what it was or how old it was.

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A pretty chapel interior
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Beautiful workmanship
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A lovely ceiling

As we walked around the town itself, it was obvious that they all took themselves quite seriously, including their Templar heritage.  In the Piazza Martiri Patrioti (Patriotic Martyrs) was this cute little restaurant.  Despite how nice it all looked, they maintained the typical Italian peeling wall effect.  There must be something about either their paint or stucco!  I thought you might like to see an actual menu of what was being served.

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Dine with a Knight
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Turf or surf?

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Pretty handwriting
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Direction to restaurant

Another Knight announced a different restaurant (this dinky town has four of them) with an interesting pointing arrow design.

There were Knights all over the place.

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Pit stop for a cold one?
I was really happy to see a typical Italian tricycle truck, which happened to be delivering a new washing machine to somebody. 

I saw them on my first trip to Italy 26 years ago, and I still find them really fun.  They actually still make them, although most of the ones I see look pretty old (which doesn't mean they are!).

Then we came to another really pretty square named Piazza della Liberta, which might be the main square despite being fairly small and kind of tucked away.  We didn't bother with the tourist shops this time; apparently we could have gotten our passports stamped and exchanged our euros for some luiginos, valued at 1:6 with the US dollar and only valid in this town!  I thought this was a pretty fountain and balcony.

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Piazza della Liberta in flower
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Fountain of the Four Lions

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A sunny home even in the shade
As we walked around, we saw some interesting sights I thought you'd enjoy.  This first one is just a nice home painted a bright sunny yellow as it's probably in a lot of shade most of the time.

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No Knights passing under the archway today

I really enjoyed as I came around a corner this Templar Knight painted on the wall.  There are others I didn't happen to see.

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A grotto at the end of the street

I also found this doorway with the Templar cross interesting, as was the whole setting.

There's some kind of grotto located there, but this arrangement of doorways and steps is quite common in hilltop towns.

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Such a fun mailbox
The mailboxes all over were also painted for the Principality, as they aren't official Italian looking ones.

I think they came up with really pretty colors to represent themselves.

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Piazza San Martino with Templar cross

As we carried on, we came to Piazza San Martino, which also follows the Templar theme.  In the center of the square was another Templar cross formed in stone.  On one side of the square was the church of San Martino, with the Palazzo dei Monaci (Palace of the Monks) next to it.

The 16th century church is done in typical Italian ochre colors with really nicely maintained frescoes from 1928 and refurbished in 2006. 

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Frescoed San Martino parish church XVI century
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Palazzo dei Monaci for the Cistercian monks
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Interior of San Martino
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Close-up of altar

I really had to manipulate the processing of these interior pictures from my misbehaving camera, as it was way too dark for the tablet's camera, so they aren't as nice as they could have been.  But I thought you'd enjoy seeing the details anyway.

As this town isn't that far away from us, I'm sure we'll be back as an easy day trip, with a fixed or replaced camera, and we'll have to spend a bit more time exploring some different nooks and crannies.  But I hope you've enjoyed this little tour of a tiny little country looking for respect for its own identity. 

I'll leave you with views of the town from the other side as we left to continue our tour of the Italian Riviera dei Fiori's Rock Villages.

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Other side of Seborga up close
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Seborga in situ facing Italy in general

One never knows just where one will come across unexpected treasures, but that's what happened with us while visiting this town.  Come back to see just what we found!

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed this story! Good for them to continue to be independent. I think we need to be addressed as Your Tremendousness, too. Great pictures as always. Even though the camera is not being as cooperative as it could be, I don't see how it's affecting your work! Cities on hills are lovely.


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