Mapped above are many of the world’s microstates, defined here as recognized, sovereign nation-states with population less than 500,000 and area less than 500 sq. mi. While I could go on for months about these different nations (believe me, I could) I want to cover some of the highlights.
San Marino As the world’s oldest surviving republic, San Marino is something of an anomaly. This tiny, rugged state of 24 sq mi. boasts some 32,000 residents and no flat land. The state is practically a fortress, located on steep, rocky ground and surrounded by beauteous medieval castles. Napoleon Bonaparte so admired this tiny nation that he respected San Marino’s autonomy. San Marino traces its history to September 3, 301, when Saint Marinus of Croatia fled his island home during the persecutions of the Emperor Diocletian and established a monastery in what is now San Marino. The history and traditions of the republic survive today, making for an intriguing tourist destination.
Vatican City The smallest sovereign nation in the world, Vatican City traces its modern-day origins to the Lateran Treaty of 1929, signed with the then Fascist government of Italy. Vatican City is the smallest recognized, independent nation-state by both land area (110 acres) and population (842). Don’t be fooled by its small size, the Vatican is perhaps one of the most symbolic and universally-galvanizing nation as it is the headquarters of the Catholic Church. Vatican City is, perhaps, Europe’s most notable theocracy. Don’t think though, that this 2000 year-old center of Western Christianity is out of touch with the times; the nation has its own website and Vatican City is also, arguably, the first carbon-neutral country in the world.
Monaco Monaco holds the distinction of being the most densely populated sovereign nation in the world. This tiny country is world-renowned for its spectacular location on the enchanting French Riviera. The ethinically Italian House of Grimaldi ruled this tiny nation and led the monarchy that has become so central to this microstate’s identity. The place is also considered a tax haven and playground for the rich, home to the Monte Carlo Casino a now iconic resort destination. Despite French being the official language, the distinct Monegasque language continues to be spoken in this state.
Malta This tiny island nation located southeast of Sicily is one of the wealthiest, thanks in part to its tax haven status and attractive Mediterranean climate and lifestyle. Known as a playground for the rich, the largely “hands-off” government holds Roman Catholicism as the nation’s official religion. Indeed, much of the history of Malta is wrapped up with the Church. In the New Testament, St. Paul was said to have been shipwrecked on Malta where he established an episcopate of the church. The Knights Hospitaller, also known as the Order of St. John governed the island for 268 years, before succumbing to the great Napoleon Bonaparte. Malta was later a British protectorate before independence. Much of the Hospitaller’s legacy on Malta can be seen in the hospitals, fortresses, churches, and watchtowers. This nation boasts 3 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in its 121 sq. mi. territory.
Andorra This independent nation located high in the Pyrenees between France and Spain claims the highest capital city in Europe, Andorra la Vella. This state was established thanks to a 988 A.D charter that was traditionally attributed to Charlemagne. It later developed a co-monarchy led by the French head of state and the Bishop of Catalonia, a situation it still maintains. Currently, its two monarchs are Francois Hollande (prime minister of France) and Bishop Joan Enric Vives Sicilia. Though the official language is Catalan, Portuguese and Spanish are widely spoken as is French. It should come as no surprise that this tiny European microstate is yet another tax haven popular with tourists (roughly 10.2 million annually). Additionally, Andorra is ranked as having one of the highest life expectancies of any nation in the world.
Lichtenstein The tiny state of Lichetenstein is perhaps best known for having the highest GDP per Capita when measuring by Purchasing Power Parity (PPP). This alpine nation takes its name from the dynasty that gradually absorbed the territory of this nation. The feudal dynasty was never able to qualify for the seat in the Reichstag of the Holy Roman Empire that it sought. On January 23, 1719 Lichtenstein was declared to be a sovereign member of the Holy Roman Empire, the traditional founding of the modern-day nation. Lichtenstein is one of two doubly-landlocked countries, that is, a landlocked nation surrounded by other landlocked nations (the other doubly-landlocked nationbeing Uzbekistan). Lichtenstein is also one of 15 nations in then world that support no military forces of any kind. The nation features low taxes and a favorable regulatory climate that has led to a thriving industry of holding companies registering themselves in the country. One of the benefits of being such a small nation can be felt on the national holiday when all Lichtensteiners are invited to Vaduz Castle, the seat of the monarchy, for a reception.
Nota Bene: I plan to do posts about microstates in other parts of the globe in future installments.