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Pavarotti and The Prince

A Coronation in Seborga

Next year is the 150th anniversary of the foundation of the Italian State. Not that I've seen any evidence of this being a special anniversary; perhaps that will get going later this year. But it goes to show what a relatively young country this is.

In 1861 a disparate collection of provinces and states were brought together under the Act of Unification, but in all the excitement one little province was forgotten. Close to the French border, about ten kilometres inland from Bordighera, lies the mountain-top village of Seborga, which as Castrum Sepulcri was granted the status of a Principality by the Holy Roman Empire. Later it was governed as a sovereign state by the Knights Templar and then by Cistercian monks before being acquired by the House of Savoy.

SeborgaBut its more recent history is curious and interesting. Curious because for some reason it failed completely to be accounted for at the Congress of Vienna in 1814, in the Act of Unification of Italy or at the formation of the Italian Republic in 1946. So it exists in a strange twilight zone; wholly dependent on Italy without officially being part of it.

Had it not been for this accident of history the fate of Seborga might have been the same as for so many mountain villages; a slow decline into anonymity. But fate had other ideas. Seborga is in the middle of the Riviera dei Fiori - the Riviera of Flowers, and in the 1960s the charismatic head of the flower growers, one Giorgio Carbone, started a movement to reassert the ancient sovereignty of the village. The movement gathered enough steam that in 1963 Carbone was elected head of the micro-state with the title Prince Giorgio the First of Seborga. His 362 subjects were to refer to him as "Your Tremendousness", a title that indicates a degree of whimsicality reminiscent of a Marx Brothers film and utterly befitting a tiny Principality that makes Monaco look like a continent by comparison. In 1995 a referendum was held to reassert Seborga's independence and Prince Giorgio was near-unanimously re-elected.

Of course the main beneficiary of all this pretend pomp and circumstance was Seborga itself. Today it thrives on such canny marketing as minting coins that can never be used outside the village, postage stamps that can only deliver letters to local addresses (by courtesy of the Italian Postal Service, which runs the only Post Office) and passports that are of no use at all outside Seborga. Its currency - the luigino - has the distinction of having, at US$6.00, the highest value in the world, or it would have if only a bank somewhere would accept it. On the only road up to the village stands a brightly-painted blue and white wooden customs hut to mark the border. But electricity and telephone lines, water pipes, laws and taxes are provided by Italy with little objection from the residents.

The view from SeborgaSeborga is also pretty good at doing events. There's always something going on at a weekend and the place is often full of visitors taking in the ambience and the largely made-up history. Unlike other Royals, Prince Giorgio was completely approachable; a man of the people and well known personally to nearly every resident.

"Was", because sadly last November Prince Giorgio died, setting off a process to elect a new Head of State. The process culminated on May 22 with the coronation of a new elected Prince of Seborga. The post was open to anyone willing to do the job and able to get the population to vote for him (or possibly her; I can find no information as to how many candidates offered themselves). It would also help to have deep pockets; somebody has to pay for the trappings of state, after all. And a good sense of humour would go a long way.

The new Prince is Marcello Menegatto, known as the King of Nylon because he is heir to a hosiery empire. In keeping with tradition he is to be addressed as Your Tremendousness Prince Marcello the First. Below is a short video of parts of the coronation ceremony, which started at the chapel then proceeded to the town's spacious piazza in good time for lunch. I failed to spot any dignitaries from world powers though I believe the House of Grimaldi was represented.

Entertainment was in keeping with the slightly surreal nature of the event, consisting of a young lady looking something like Shakira and a resurrected and rejuvenated Pavarotti, looking remarkably fit and lean after his spell underground.

If you've never been to Seborga I can highly recommend it. The Bordighera motorway junction is only a short way down the road; just go north and up, then get into the spirit of the smallest independent Principality you'll ever see, that works very hard at not taking itself too seriously.

If you cannot see this video, click here to download the Adobe Flash player.


Monday, 31 May 2010    Section: Events
Article tags: seborga election
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