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Hold on a second… a country with no land? Are you serious? Absolutely! While the United Nations has 193 recognised countries, it also has two observer states, namely Palestine and the Holy See. But there is a little-known third entity that also holds observer status in the UN. Yes, get ready for this – this is an officially recognised country with no land! Welcome to the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. The order, complete with its own website has no actual land, yet it is recognised by the UN and maintains diplomatic relations with 107 countries.
The official name of this order is the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta. Their official language is Italian, their currency is the (now defunct elsewhere) Maltese Scudo and they are a Roman Catholic religious order founded way back in 1099 in Jerusalem, by the Blessed Gerard. Officially, it is the world’s oldest surviving chivalric order. In its long history, the Order has owned land and resided in modern day Israel, Cyprus, Greece, Italy and Malta. These days, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta lives on, with its own government, laws, passport and population. They also have a church in their residence on the island of Malta.
The Sovereign Military Order of Malta has its own flag and coat of arms. This flag flies from a number of places around the world, mostly on the island of Malta and in Italy at its headquarters. The official flag is a white cross on a red background.
The Sovereign Military Order of Malta is an elective monarchy and is ruled by a Prince and Grand Master. This means the official population is two citizens, plus 13,000 members and 80,000 volunteers. One of the Knights of the Order is currently resident of the Upper Section of Fort St Angelo in the Republic of Malta. The Sovereign Military Order of Malta’s members also hold parades and events throughout the world including in Omagh in Northern Ireland for St Patrick’s Day.
Yes, yes and yes! The Sovereign Military Order of Malta has formal diplomatic relations with 107 other states and with the European Union. It also has official (but not diplomatic) relations with another six states, and it has full observer status at the UN. You can also feel like you are a tourist by picking up some Sovereign Military Order of Malta souvenirs, such as official stamps and coins. The Order also issues passports for its citizens (fully valid for travel) and car licence plates, despite not having any roads to drive on. For further reading, there are some great blogs on the Sovereign Military Order of Malta at YPT Life and Don’t Stop Living.
OK, for all you budding backpackers, travel freaks and tourists, this is the cool part. You can actually visit this ‘country with no land’. Yes, the peculiar fact is that, despite having no official land, there are three venues which are either occupied or part-owned by the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, and here they are…
To all intents and purposes, Palazzo Malta is the “capital” of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. It is a building located in Rome, Italy, and is also known as Palazzo di Malta or Palazzo dell’Ordine di Malta. Out of the three potential places to visit the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, this is the most important headquarters of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and is located in Via dei Condotti 68. The order flag flies from the building’s exterior.
Also in Rome, Italy, you can visit Villa Malta, which is officially called Villa del Priorato di Malta. This is an elaborate building on top of a hill and is home to the Grand Priory of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. Although the Villa Malta and the Palazzo Malta sit within the borders of Italy, both venues have been granted extraterritorial status. This is because Italy is one of the 107 countries that recognises the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. Villa Malta also contains the embassy of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta to Italy.
On the island of Malta (that’s the Republic of Malta) you can visit Fort St Angelo, which is currently part-owned by the Sovereign Military Order of Malta on a 99-year lease. This is the largest of the three territories currently belonging to the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. Fort St Angelo is in the city of Vittoriosa (also called Birgu), and the upper part of the fort has been leased to the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. The country was only given this “land” back in 1998, and you can now visit it and add it to your list of obscure countries that you never knew existed. Guided tours of the Knights’ Residence are available on request.
So there you have it. The Sovereign Military Order of Malta lives on and is a real country. If you share a keen interest in these types of places, check out our article on 11 Unclaimed Lands You Can Actually Rule.