B2 High-Intermediate US 2821 Folder Collection
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Hi, I'm Rick Steves and I'm standing atop one of the tiniest countries in Europe.
Europe has a handful of these little "don't-blink-or-you'll-miss-'em" lands:
There's Andorra, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Vatican City, and San Marino...
we're about to visit them all. This time, it's Little Europe.
Thanks for joining us.
Medieval Europe was a patchwork of miniscule dukedoms, princedoms, and feudal states. Modern-day
Germany - about the size of Montana - was fragmented into over 300 of these...each with
its own petty ruler, weights and measures, crown jewels, and curfew. These "countries"
were only about as big as the distance a cannon could fire from the town walls. And today,
only a handful of Europe's mini-nations survive.
The world's smallest country comes with the planet's biggest church. Another is famous
for its casino and car races. A stone's throw from the Adriatic Sea, the last of the independent
hill towns still looks pretty formidable. This castle-guarded principality is a remnant
of Europe's once-mighty Holy Roman Empire. And here, where Spain and France meet, another
tiny country entertains shoppers and hikers alike with the rugged beauty of the Pyrenees.
Europe's "microstates" are scattered far and wide. We'll start at Vatican City, drop by
San Marino, hike up to Liechtenstein, speed over to Monaco, and finish high in the Pyrenees
at Andorra.
Our first country is ruled by a man from another country, it has less than 1,000 permanent
residents, and its birthrate is zero. It's visited by hordes of tourists daily, and it's
the capital of a holy empire with more than a billion subjects worldwide. Any guesses?
The Vatican City. This is the smallest independent country on earth. Even though it occupies
less than a square mile - this country has its own radio station, newspaper, post office,
and a cute little train station. Along with the grandest church on Earth, it has a massive
museum. The Vatican is ruled - both politically and religiously - by the pope.
Vatican City is embedded in the city of Rome. It's surrounded by a mighty medieval wall
that evokes a less-than-peaceful history.
After the Roman Empire fell in the fifth century, the city of Rome gradually came under control
of the pope. In fact for centuries, the pope was called the "King Pope." Little by little,
the "King Pope" built his own empire. At its peak around the 17th century, the "Papal States,"
as they were called, encompassed much of the Italian peninsula. When the modern nation
of Italy was united, it absorbed most of the Papal States, including the city of Rome.
But the pope held out.
For sixty years the pope was holed up here, behind the Vatican Walls. Finally, in 1929,
the pope and Mussolini signed the Lateran Treaty, establishing the Vatican as its own
nation. The garden-like core of the country - where serious administration takes place
- is closed to the public.
The Vatican "military" is made up of the Swiss Guard. In 1506, the pope imported mercenaries
from Switzerland, who were known for their loyalty and courage. Today, about 100 Swiss
soldiers still protect the pope, keep the crush of tourists as orderly as possible...and
wear the flamboyant Renaissance-style uniform that tourists just love to photograph.
The Vatican has its own postal service. Many consider it to be more reliable than mailing
things from across the street, in Italy...and Vatican stamps are a fun souvenir.
The Vatican is built on the memory and tomb of the first pope, St. Peter. Piazza San Pietro
sits on what was the site of a Roman racetrack. Imagine chariots making their hairpin turns
around that obelisk.
For added entertainment during the games, Christians were executed here. In about 65
A.D., the apostle Peter was crucified within sight of this obelisk. His friends buried
him in a humble graveyard atop what pagan Romans called the Vatican Hill. For about
250 years Christians worshipped quietly on this spot. Then, when Emperor Constantine
legalized Christianity in 313 A.D., a basilica was built here, and this became the head of
the Roman Catholic Church.
Twelve hundred years later, the original St. Peter's was replaced by this, the most glorious
church in all Christendom. Upon entering, your first impression is: It's big...over
600 feet long, bathed in glorious sunbeams. It can accommodate thousands of worshippers.
Near the entrance, Michelangelo's Pietà is adored by pilgrims and tourists alike. Here
the 25-year-old Michelangelo intends to make the theological message very clear: Jesus
- once alive but now dead - gave his life for our salvation. The contrast provided by
Mary's rough robe makes his body - even carved in hard marble - seems soft and believable.
The high altar, like so much of the art decorating the Vatican, is a masterpiece by the great
Baroque artist Bernini. With sunlight illuminating its alabaster window - as if powering the
Holy Spirit, it encrusts the legendary throne of St. Peter with a starburst of Baroque praise.
Directly above the altar which marks the tomb of St. Peter, stands Bernini's bronze canopy,
and above that Michelangelo's dome - taller than a football field on end. The inscription
declares, in Latin: Tu es Petrus..."You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church."
This is the scriptural basis for the primacy of Rome in the Catholic Church.
A viewing perch gives travelers a close-up look at those huge letters and a heavenly
perspective into the church. From the rooftop you can size up the dome you're about to climb.
For a close look at Michelangelo's dome-within-a-dome design, lean in as you climb 300 steps to
the cupola.
The view from the top is unrivaled: both of the city of Rome...and of the Vatican grounds.
You can survey the entire country from this lofty perch. The long rectangular building
is the Vatican Museum with the adjacent Sistine Chapel. These buildings and courtyards display
some of the greatest art of Western civilization.
Over the centuries the popes have amassed enough art to fill what many consider Europe's
richest museum. Long halls are sumptuously decorated with precious tapestries, frescoed
ceilings, and ancient statues.
The museum features art from every age. Its exquisite painting gallery includes Raphael's
much-loved painting of the Transfiguration. Halls and courtyards are littered with ancient
Greek masterpieces - like the Laocoön...so inspirational to the great masters of the
Renaissance.
And the pope's apartments tell Christian history - this is the battle in which Emperor Constantine
was led by angels and a holy cross both to a key military victory and to his own religious
conversion.
And these rooms celebrate pre-Christian philosophy. Here Raphael paints the School of Athens...the
who's who of ancient Greek intellectual heroes...many painted with the features of Renaissance greats...Leonardo,
Michelangelo...and a self-portrait of Raphael in the black cap.
But of course, we've just scratched the surface. If you're pondering eternity, try covering
the Vatican Museum thoroughly.
On the opposite side of the Italian peninsula, just a few miles inland from the Adriatic
coast, is another tiny nation that's entirely surrounded by Italy...San Marino.
The Republic of San Marino brags it's the world's oldest and smallest republic. It's
remained sovereign through almost all its 1,700-year history. San Marino's isolated
location has helped it maintain its independence. The 24-square-mile country clings bravely
to Monte Titano, in Italy's rugged Apennine Mountains.
A thousand years ago, Italy was made up of dozens of independent little states like this.
Over the centuries, virtually all of them disappeared from the map. First, Europe's
dominant royal families snatched up these tiny territories, and added them to their
vast kingdoms. Then, in the 19th century, Italy's unification movement consolidated
virtually the entire Italian peninsula into the modern nation of Italy.
San Marino survived because of Giuseppe Garibaldi. A leader of the Italian unification movement,
Garibaldi hid from his enemies here in San Marino. In appreciation, Garibaldi allowed
San Marino to remain independent.
Perched above the old town are San Marino's three characteristic castles. This trio of
fortresses has done its part to keep San Marino free and independent over the centuries. A
ridge-top trail connects the fortresses.
Since the 1960s tourism has brought prosperity - and along with it streets of tacky shops.
About half the country's economy is based on tourism.
As in other tiny states, quirky laws and tax regulations are used to stoke the economy.
As sales tax is half what it is in surrounding Italy, shoppers have long come here for the
savings.
Several of Europe's tiny countries produce their own stamps and coins - much sought after
by collectors.
Rick: Buongiorno. Woman: Buongiorno.
Rick: A stamp for my passport please. Woman: Yes.
And for a fee, they'll even stamp your passport.
The town's focal point is the long, balcony-like Piazza della Libertà, with sweeping views
over the realm. The statue depicting Liberty - wearing a crown with the three castle towers
- celebrates this country's passion for independence and democracy.
The Palazzo Pubblico, or "Palace of the People," is guarded by some of San Marino's tiny security
force, in their distinctive uniforms.
A modest stairway leads to the room from where the country is governed. Paintings remind
legislators of its long history and the saint who's considered the father of this little
nation.
In about the year 300, Marino, a stone cutter from present-day Croatia, fled persecution
from the Roman Emperor. He found refuge here, on Monte Titano and decided to stay and help
the community of other fleeing Christians. He was made a saint for his efforts, and remains
the patron saint of this country to this day.
From this lofty perch, San Marino's soldiers have defended their homeland - with the latest
in military technology. Ever since a key victory back in the 15th century, the crossbowmen
of San Marino have been a part of state celebrations.
Traditionally, this forced the marksmen to stay sharp and keep their crossbows in good
working order. While today it's mostly an excuse to show off for tourists, their sport
is still taken seriously. The marksmen hit their target with armor-piercing force - illustrating
the pride of nation with a long if not mighty heritage.
As if celebrating their bulls-eyes, the San Marino Crossbowman Federation enlivens their
mountain top republic with traditional fanfare.
[Crossbowman performing]
San Marino takes you back to the age of city states, an era of pageantry, pride and fierce
independence. Further north lays another pint sized country that is tucked away not on a
hill - but in the mighty Alps.
Two centuries ago, there were dozens of independent states in German-speaking Europe. Today, there
are only four: Germany, Austria, Switzerland...and Liechtenstein.
Nestled between Switzerland and Austria, the Principality of Liechtenstein is defined by
the mighty Alps to the east, the baby Rhine River to the west, and a stout fortress protecting
the mouth of its valley to the south. This quirky remnant of medieval feudal politics
is just about 62 square miles. It is truly land-locked, without a seaport, or even an
airport.
Liechtensteiners - who number about 35,000 - speak German, are mostly Catholic, and have
a stubborn independent streak. Women weren't given the vote until 1984.
The country's made up of 11 villages. The village of Triesenberg, high above the valley,
gathers around its onion-domed church, which recalls the settlers who arrived here centuries
ago from the western part of Switzerland.
The town of Vaduz sits on the valley floor. While it has only 5,000 people, it's the country's
capital. Its pedestrianized main drag is lined with modern art and hotels bordering a district
of slick office parks.
Historically Europe's tiny countries have offered businesses special tax and accounting
incentives. For a place with such a small population, Liechtenstein has a lot of businesses.
Many European companies locate here to take advantage of its low taxes.
And that's how the Prince of Liechtenstein, whose castle is perched above his domain,
likes it. The billionaire prince, who looks down on his 6-by-12-mile country, wields more
real political power in his realm than any other European royalty.
The national museum tells the story of the prince and his country. Their family crest
dates to the Middle Ages, when the Liechtenstein family was close friends with the Habsburg
family, who ruled the Holy Roman Empire. The Liechtenstein family purchased this piece
of real estate from the Holy Roman Emperor. In 1719, the domain was granted principality
status - answering only to the Emperor. The Liechtenstein princes - who lived near Vienna
- saw their new country merely as a status symbol, and didn't even bother to visit for
decades. In fact, it wasn't until the 20th century that the first Liechtenstein prince
actually lived here.
In 1806, during the Napoleonic age, Liechtenstein's obligations to the Habsburg Emperor disappeared
and the country was granted true independence. Later, after World War I, tough times forced
the principality to enter into an economic union with Switzerland.
To this day Liechtenstein enjoys a close working relationship with its Swiss neighbors.
And like Switzerland, a big part of its modern economy is tourism and sports - hosting visitors
enjoying its dramatic natural beauty. Ski lifts, busy both winter and summer, take nature
lovers to the dizzying ridge that serves as the border with Austria. Even in little little
Liechtenstein...the views are big and the hiking possibilities go on and on.
On the Mediterranean Sea, basking between the French and Italian Rivieras, the Principality
of Monaco barely fits on its one square mile of territory.
Of its 30,000 residents, less than 10,000 are true Monegasques, as locals are called.
Many of the rest call Monaco home because there's no income tax. Despite over development,
high prices, and mobs of tourists, a visit here is a Riviera must.
And Monaco is a work in progress. The district of Fontvieille was reclaimed from the sea.
It bristles with luxury high-rise condos. The breakwater - constructed elsewhere and
towed in - enables cruise ships to dock. And cars still race, as they have since 1929,
around the principality in one of the world's most famous auto races, the Grand Prix of
Monaco.
The miniscule principality has always been tiny. But it used to be less tiny. In the
1860s it lost most of its territory to France. But the prince built a casino and managed
to connect his domain to the rest of the Riviera with a new road and a train line.
Humble Monaco was suddenly on the Grand Tour map - the place for the vacationing aristocracy
to play. Today, the people of Monaco have one of the world's highest per-capita incomes,
with plush apartments to match. Its famous casino allows the wealthy to enjoy losing
money in extreme comfort.
If Monaco is a business; the prince is its CEO. While the casino generates only a small
part of the state's revenue, its many banks - which provide an attractive way to protect
your money from the taxman - earn much more. There is no income tax here, but the prince
collects plenty of money in value-added taxes, real estate taxes and corporate taxes.
Nearly all of Monaco's sights are packed in a Cinderella neighborhood atop its fortified
hill. Its impressive aquarium, which proudly crowns the cliff like a palace, was directed
by Jacques Cousteau for 17 years.
A medieval castle sat where Monaco's palace sits today. The palace square features a statue
of François Grimaldi, a renegade Italian who captured Monaco disguised as a monk in
1297.
This first ruler of Monaco established the dynasty that still rules the principality.
Today, over 700 years later, the current prince is his direct descendant.
Palace guards protect the ruling Grimaldi family 24/7 and they change with the pageantry
of an important nation. Every day at about noon tourists pack the square to witness the
spectacle in this improbable little princedom.
Our final stop is Andorra - the biggest of these midget countries. If you're keeping
track, here's a rundown on Europe's tiny derby showing each of these countries' relative
size.
The Vatican is the big little winner. Then comes Monaco, San Marino, Liechtenstein and
finally, Andorra. Luxemburg is Europe's next smallest country. Small as it is, it would
easily fit all five microstates within its borders.
Andorra sits high in the craggy Pyrenees Mountains, as if hiding out between Spain and France.
With 180 square miles and about 75,000 people, it's the largest of Europe's micro-countries.
The country has a long history. In their national anthem, Andorrans sing of Charlemagne rescuing
their land from the Moors back in 803. In the 13th century Spanish and French nobles
married. They agreed that the principality would be neither Spanish nor French. This
unique feudal arrangement survives today. And - while they have co-princes: one happens
to be the president of France and the other a bishop from Spain - locals stress that their
land is 100 percent independent.
Until little more than a generation ago, Andorra was an impoverished and isolated backwater.
Churches date back to the 12th and 13th centuries. Their stony Romanesque bell towers stand strong
as the surrounding Pyrenees.
That same local stone is used today as a building boom illustrates how, lately, the principality
has flourished. Since World War II the population has increased tenfold. Recently Andorrans
have become quite wealthy.
The mountains that kept the principality both isolated and poor are now a source of its
prosperity. Hiking and skiing are understandably big business here.
And Andorra employs those special economic weapons so popular among Europe's little states:
easy-going banking, duty-free shopping, and low, low taxes. It's morphed from a rough
and tumble smuggler's haven to a high-tech, high-altitude shopper's haven - famous for
its low prices.
While Andorrans speak Catalan - and have an affinity for the Spanish region of Catalunya
and Barcelona - the commercial environment here is international as can be.
The country's capital and dominant city, Andorra la Vella, is a mostly modern town with the
charm of a giant shopping mall. While most know this place for its shops and for what
locals claim is the biggest spa in Europe, pockets of Old World charm do hide out in
the old center.
The Casa de la Vall is the country's parliament building. A private residence back in the
16th century, today it houses Andorra's claustrophobic parliament chamber. It has 28 seats - that's
four representatives for each of the seven parishes - with portraits of the current co-princes
on the wall.
While a humble reminder of a simple past, Andorrans still look to this building for
leadership as their country builds an ever better life for its citizens.
So, what do Andorra and the rest of Europe's little countries have in common? Most of them
are high in the mountains or some other hard-to-reach terrain. Many offer low or no taxes, which
encourage businesses and individuals from other countries to come and support the local
economy. Each one has survived centuries of warfare, treaties, and reshaped borders - usually
thanks to a combination of diplomatic skill and luck. All of them get by on the coattails
of larger nations. And they're small and easy to overlook, so they can fall through the
cracks without being noticed by the next big tyrant.
Most important, all of them are sustained by an unwavering national pride in their unlikely
yet enduring independence. Thanks for joining us. I'm Rick Steves. Until next time, keep
on traveling.
Credits:
...Croatia fled persecution from the Emperor Dioclesian...
For a place with such a small population, Liechtenstein has a lot [laugh].
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Little Europe: Five Micro-Countries

2821 Folder Collection
Jane published on July 12, 2015
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