Giorgio Carbone, Elected Prince of Seborga, Dies at 73
Nestled near the beaches of the Italian Riviera and the snow-capped Alps sits the tiny principality of Seborga, a place that floats on legends. Over the centuries, plagues and earthquakes have struck the region and missed Seborga, or so the stories say. Some insist that knights took the Holy Grail there.
Daniele La Monaca/Reuters The New York Times
Giorgio Carbone, shown in 2005, was elected prince for life of Seborga, which he considered independent, and was called His Tremendousness.
The New York Times
Under Prince Giorgio, Seborga’s motto: Sit in the shade.
But the true miracle of Seborga may have been the 46-year reign of Prince Giorgio I, the constitutionally elected royal ruler of its five square miles and 2,000 people, about 350 of whom are enfranchised citizens.
Prince Giorgio, a bewhiskered grower of mimosa flowers from a family of mimosa growers, was seized by a glorious vision: that Seborga was not part of the surrounding Italian nation. It was an ancient principality, cruelly robbed of its sovereignty.
After convincing his Seborgan neighbors of their true significance, Giorgio Carbone was elected prince in 1963. He gracefully accepted the informal title of His Tremendousness, and was elected prince for life in 1995 by a vote of 304 to 4. Voters then ratified Seborga’s independence, which, by the prince’s interpretation, it already had.
Prince Giorgio established a palace, wrote a Constitution, and set up a cabinet and a parliament. He chose a coat of arms, minted money (with his picture), issued stamps (with his picture) and license plates, selected a national anthem and mobilized a standing army, consisting of Lt. Antonello Lacala. He adopted a motto: Sub umbra sede (Sit in the shade).
But the principality’s future has suddenly turned cloudy. Prince Giorgio I died at his home in Seborga on Nov. 25 after suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease, the principality announced. He was 73. Succession plans are uncertain.
More than 20 countries have recognized independent Seborga, in one fashion or another. Except Italy. The Seborghini pay taxes to Italy and vote in its elections. Some Italians mutter that Prince Giorgio’s true goal was to create a tourist attraction at a time when the flower industry was migrating to the Netherlands.
Tourism indeed rose, but Prince Giorgio ridiculed the Italian government’s claim that it was his motive. “The government are imbeciles!” he told The Daily Telegraph of London in 1999. “Tourists? Pshaw!”
Doubters perhaps did not grasp the history that the prince had so painstakingly reconstructed. In the year 954, local counts ceded Seborga to Roman Catholic monks, and in 1079 Pope Gregory VII and Emperor Henry IV elevated it to the rank of an imperial principality of the Holy Roman Empire.
In 1729, the Savoy dynasty bought Seborga, but did not register the transaction, a failure that invalidated the sale, Prince Giorgio contended. The error was compounded when Seborga was not mentioned by the Congress of Vienna in 1815, nor in the act of unification of Italy in 1861, nor in the formation of the Italian republic in 1946.
“Even Mussolini did not consider Seborga to be part of Italy,” the prince said in a 1996 interview with The Globe and Mail, the Toronto newspaper. He did not explain.
How Mr. Carbone came to see himself as royalty is fuzzy, but the process had clearly started when he took up a horse and carriage. And really, who was he to protest when the Seborghini hailed him as prince, after he had so lucidly persuaded them that they lived in a principality?
Since the Middle Ages, Seborga’s sovereign had been elected, so the princely plebiscite that elevated Mr. Carbone was a return to tradition. He took to the throne with panache, wearing sash, sword and large rosette medallions as he held court at the Bianca Azzura bar. He traveled in a flag-bedecked Mercedes-Benz that was briefly impounded by the Italian police because of its Seborgan plates.
Prince Giorgio’s dedication was so total that he forsook marriage, telling People magazine in 1993 that he loved his female subjects equally. He left no immediate survivors.
Early in his reign the prince, a heavy smoker, passed a law to encourage smoking. His uneasy relationship with the elected mayor of Seborga improved as the mayor counted the tourists the prince attracted, and the prince realized that the mayor did the boring work.
Prince Giorgio sent many letters with the principality’s stamps to officials in Rome, and he gloated that none bounced back marked “Return to sender,” The Riviera Times reported. Not that any were answered.
In 2005, he made a rare television appearance on the BBC program “How to Start Your Own Country.” His only political challenge came in 2006, when Princess Yasmine von Hohenstaufen Anjou Plantagenet mysteriously materialized to claim the throne with the intention of returning it to Italy. The Seborghini responded with indifference, and that was that.
Prince Giorgio accepted no salary, although it is not clear he was offered one. He daily availed himself of ham and cheese from the village shop, a royal perquisite.
New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/13/world/europe/13carbone.html
PS I do the website www.Seborga.net ..... Marty