Europe has a number of micro-states and small governmental entities which are relatively unknown outside of the region. These include the world’s oldest republic (San Marino), Europe’s last feudal state (Sark), a unique co-principality and feudal state (Andorra), and a short-lived republic (Carpatho-Ruthenia).
San Marino is one of the smallest countries in Europe: with 61 square kilometers it ranks third after the Vatican and Monaco. This means that it is about one third the size of Washington, D.C. San Marino claims to be the world’s oldest republic. It was founded by a Christian stonemason named Marinus on September 3, 301.
Shown above is the founding of San Marino.
San Marino has a population of nearly 32,000. With regard to life expectancy, it ranks third in the world with 83 years (81 for men and 86 for women).
With regard to its economy, the C.I.A. World Factbook reports:
San Marino's economy relies heavily on its tourism and banking industries, as well as on the manufacture and export of ceramics, clothing, fabrics, furniture, paints, spirits, tiles, and wine.
The current unemployment rate in San Marino is 3.8%.
For more than seven centuries, Andorra, a small micro-state located in the Pyrenees Mountains between Spain and France, was a unique co-principality. It was governed in a feudal manner by the French chief of state and the Spanish bishop of Seu d’Urgell. In 1993 it became a democracy.
Andorra is significantly larger than San Marino and encompasses 468 square kilometers. This means that it is about 2.5 times the size of Washington, D.C.
Andorra has a population of nearly 85,000. With regard to life expectancy, it ranks fourth in the world with an average of 82 years (80 for men and 85 for women). While Catalan is the official language, French, Castilian Spanish, and Portuguese are widely spoken.
Sark, a Channel Island located in the English Channel just off the coast of Normandy, is a British dependency: it is a Royal Fief, with its own set of laws based on Norman law and its own parliament. Sark was the last European feudal state and evolved into a democracy in 2008.
The Veneti, the aboriginal people of Sark, were conquered by the Romans in 56 BCE and the island became a part of the Roman Empire. Sometime during the tenth century, Sark became a part of one of the Breton-speaking kingdoms. After 933, it was a part of the Duchy of Normandy and after 1066 it was under the Crown of England. During the thirteenth century, Sark was used by the French pirate, Eustace the Monk. By the sixteenth century it was largely uninhabited, being used occasionally by pirates.
The island was colonized in 1565: Helier de Careret, Seigneur of St. Ouen in Jersey received Letters Patent from Queen Elizabeth I granting him Sark in fief in perpetuity on the condition that he maintain the island free of pirates and occupy the island with at least 40 men who were subjects of the Queen.
The residence of the Seigneur is shown above.
During World War II, the island was occupied by German troops. In 1990, an unemployed French nuclear physicist attempted a single-handed invasion of Sark. He arrived at night armed with a semi-automatic weapon and put up signs announcing his intention to take over the island at noon. He was arrested by the island’s volunteer constable while sitting on a bench, waiting for noon and changing the gun’s magazine.
In charge of Sark today is the seigneur, who leases the entire island from the crown for $3.62 per year and then subleases it to the 600 islanders. The biggest land owners get 40 seats in the Chief Pleas, the parliament that meets in an old schoolhouse under a portrait of the Queen. Twelve seats are taken by elected commoners. In 2007, the Chief Pleas agreed to limit landowners to 12 seats and beefed up the commoners’ share to 16. The following year, in compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights, Sark was changed from a feudal system to a democracy.
Sark has been designated a Dark Sky Community by the International Dark-Sky Association. This means that the island is sufficiently clear of light pollution to allow naked-eye astronomy.
Sark has an economy based largely on tourism. The island covers about 5.4 square kilometers.
While San Marino might be the oldest republic in the world, Carpatho-Ruthenia was the shortest lived. The Republic of Carpatho-Ruthenia came into existence on March 15, 1939. Its short life was snuffed out that evening when Hungary invaded. In the Ukraine, some Ruthenian revivalists are demanding self-determination. On October 25, 2008, 100 delegates to the Congress of Carpathian Ruthenians declared the formation of the Republic of Carpathian Ruthenia. The Ukrainian government responded by charging the leaders with encroaching on the territorial integrity and inviolability of Ukraine.