Guide to Europe’s Microstates: Bonus – SMOM*

Posted by on May 12, 2013 in What's New?

(*The Sovereign Military Order of Malta – SMOM is not an independent country and doesn’t even have its own territory, but it’s still cool)

Quick facts (most recent available data)

Population: 3 (plus 13,000 members and 80,000 volunteers)
Area: two buildings located in Rome
GDP per capita (PPP): n/a

Visiting SMOM

Location and how to get there: Via Condotti 68, Rome (close to the Spanish Steps). There’s really not that much to visit; you can basically walk to the order’s headquarters in Rome. Map

Why visit? Is there anything smaller than the world’s smallest independent state (Vatican City)? Apparently there is. Sort of. The Sovereign Military Order of Malta is the continuation of the medieval Order of Saint John of Jerusalem or Knights Hospitaller (established circa 1099) and is generally considered a sovereign subject of international law (this claim is disputed by some). The order doesn’t have its own territory but issues its own passports (in very limited numbers), stamps and car license plates; and its buildings in Rome enjoy extraterritoriality. As such, SMOM is a unique political entity and deserves a couple of pictures when visiting Rome.

Recommended visit duration: 10 minutes

Fun facts:

  • SMOM is the oldest surviving order of chivalry
  • The order’s origins are based on a group founded in Jerusalem as a hospital to care for the poor and sick pilgrims in the Holy Land. It became a military order after the conquest of Jerusalem in 1099
  • The order operated from Rhodes between 1310-1523 and later controlled Malta between 1530-1798, leaving a legacy of impressive fortifications.

Review of my visit to the SMOM

I had read about the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and was intrigued by its unique political status as a (somewhat disputed) sovereign subject of international law. SMOM issues its own passports, stamps and car licenses plates, and is (sort of) recognized as a sovereign entity by many countries. The order has formal diplomatic relations with 104 states and official relations with another 6 countries. I couldn’t pass the opportunity to investigate during a brief trip to Rome.

From the well-known Spanish Steps in Rome there’s a 5-minute walk to the order’s headquarters (“capital”), the Magistral Palace. There’s nothing to visit really, but I snap some quick pictures of the palace and of the order’s flag. I don’t think you’re allowed inside the Palace and there was some construction work going on anyway.

There’s a SMOM post office around a corner from the Palace which sells stamps you can use to mail postcards to most countries. I get my stamp and head back to Rome, content with visiting SMOM “territory”, the next best thing to a state smaller than the smallest independent state in the world. 

More information available on SMOM’s official website or on the Wikipedia page.

Keep reading: Monaco | San Marino | Vatican City  | Malta | Luxembourg | Liechtenstein | Andorra | Gibraltar | SMOM