Can You Visit a "Country" with No Land?



Can You Visit a "Country" with No Land?


Have you ever wondered what defines a country? Is it solely about having a landmass? In reality, the concept of a country is more complex than that. While most countries have a defined territory, there are a few exceptions that challenge this notion. One such example is the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, also known as the Order of Malta. Despite not having any land of its own, this ancient order is recognized as a sovereign entity in international law. In this article, we will explore the fascinating history and unique characteristics of the Order of Malta, and discover if it is possible to visit this "country" with no land.

The Backstory of the Order of Malta

The Order of Malta traces its origins back to the Knights Hospitaller, a chivalric order established during the Crusades in the 11th century. Originally founded as a military order to protect pilgrims and provide medical assistance, the Order of Malta developed into a prominent religious and charitable institution over the centuries. Today, its primary focus is on humanitarian aid and assistance around the world.

The full name of the Order is the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes, and of Malta. Despite not having a physical territory, the Order is recognized by 112 states worldwide, excluding the United States and the United Kingdom. Since 1994, the Order has enjoyed the status of a Permanent Observer at the United Nations General Assembly[^1^].

The Order of Malta Today

Although the Order of Malta doesn't have a landmass, it maintains a presence in Rome, Italy, where it has two headquarters buildings. These buildings enjoy extraterritoriality, similar to embassies, granting the Order a degree of independence within Italian territory. Visitors can explore the Visitor Center for the Sovereign Order of Malta located in the Magistral Palace, which has served as the Order's seat of government since 1834.

The Order of Malta issues its own passports, coins, and postage stamps. However, it's worth noting that only a few countries recognize the Order's passport, making it one of the weakest passports in the world in terms of recognition[^2^]. Despite these limitations, the Order of Malta continues to carry out its mission of providing humanitarian aid to those in need.

The Historical Journey of the Order

Throughout its history, the Order of Malta has faced numerous challenges and undergone several relocations. As the Crusader territories in the Holy Land were progressively lost to Muslim forces, the Order relocated from Jerusalem to Cyprus, then to Rhodes, and finally to Malta. However, in 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Malta, leaving the Order without any land. Although they lost their physical territory, the Order preserved its historical military traditions and ceased to have a military function.

One notable historical landmark associated with the Order is Fort St. Angelo, located in Malta. Built or rebuilt by the Order of Malta, this fortress served as the Order's headquarters during the Great Siege of Malta in 1565. While the Order no longer holds sovereignty over the fort, it still retains limited rights and jurisdiction over parts of it, thanks to a treaty signed with the modern country of Malta in 1998[^3^].

Visiting the Order of Malta

If you're intrigued by the history and activities of the Order of Malta, you can visit their Visitor Center in Rome. The Visitor Center, situated in the Magistral Palace, offers insights into the Order's humanitarian, medical, and social initiatives, as well as its storied history. Here, you can learn about the unique characteristics that define this "country" without land.

The Magistral Palace enjoys extraterritorial status, similar to an embassy, granting the Order a level of independence within Italian territory. The Visitor Center is open from Monday to Friday, with specific opening hours, and provides an opportunity to explore the Order's contributions to society and its ongoing mission to help those in need[^4^].


The Sovereign Military Order of Malta, despite not having any land to call its own, stands as a remarkable example of a "country" that transcends traditional definitions. With a rich history dating back to the Crusades, the Order of Malta continues to carry out its humanitarian mission worldwide. While you may not be able to visit the physical territory of the Order, you can explore their Visitor Center in Rome, where you can learn more about their unique status and the impact they have made on the world.

So, if you're ever in Rome and find yourself intrigued by this extraordinary "country" without land, consider paying a visit to the Order of Malta's Visitor Center. Discover the stories, traditions, and contributions of this ancient order that has persevered through the centuries, transcending the boundaries of physical territory.

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