In my ongoing World Borders Series, this is a peculiar and welcome addition and country 156 on my wacaday tourist journey on planet earth. I have to give the FULL NAMES of these two countries for you to understand the difference. I didn’t cross from Malta into Malta – that would be absurd. I officially backpacked in TWO different countries whilst remaining within the same fortress! Fort St. Angelo! I crossed the border from the Republic of Malta (Malta) into the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, which is also known as the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes, and of Malta!
Hold On – What is The Sovereign Military Order of Malta?
I was going backpacking through the Sovereign Military Order of Malta – an unusual country to tour – literally the ONLY United Nations recognised country in the world with no official land. It is an old order, with their own flag, coat of arms, currency, stamps, passport stamps and international recognition. They are recognised by OVER 100 United Nations members. Many have classed it as the “only official country in the world with no land”.
Are you serious? The country has NO land?
Well yes and no. The fact they have no “land” is not 100% correct as of course they have 3 knights, so those knights must live somewhere right? The country has embassies all over the world, so you can see their presence. But a visit to one of their embassies is of course not their own land. Those embassies are in countries owning that land and therefore you can visit as many of their embassies as you want but you cannot say you have backpacked the country unless you have been inside residence of one of the knights. It was research time! So it appears, there are officially two parts of LAND owned, leased or rented by the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.
How can you backpack the Sovereign Military Order of Malta?
I found out that one of the places where one of those knights lives is a private 99 year lease on the ancient Fort St. Angelo in the city of Vitoriosso in the Republic of Malta (which should not be confused with the Sovereign Military Order of Malta). So here in this huge fort in the Republic of Malta is a private section which is not open to the general public. It is private land, on a 99 year lease since 1998, so they have 80 years left of that lease. Although not open to the general public, a private guided tour is available on request to the information and reception area of Fort St. Angelo. When I heard about this, I asked immediately for a special private guided tour and my wish was granted. I was pretty excited ahead of my visit. The tour costs 5 Euros and you get issued with a ticket but no visa or passport is needed or issued. You must remain with your guide at all times.
The country was only given this “land” back in 1998. On 5th December 1998, a treaty was signed between Malta and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta granting the upper part of Fort St Angelo, including the Grand Master’s House and the Chapel of St Anne, to the Order with limited extraterritoriality. This treaty stated the purpose is “to give the Order the opportunity to be better enabled to carry out its humanitarian activities as Knights Hospitallers from Saint Angelo, as well as to better define the legal status of Saint Angelo subject to the sovereignty of Malta over it”.
This treaty was then updated and ratified on 1st November 2001. The agreement now has a duration of 99 years but the document allows the Maltese Government terminate it at any time after 50 years – reminding me of the previous Hong Kong and UK treaty and when Prince Charlie brought down the Union Flag in the Kong in 1997. In terms of the agreement, the flag of Malta is to be flown together with the flag of the Order in a prominent position over Saint Angelo. No asylum on the premises may be granted by the Order and generally the Maltese courts have full jurisdiction and Maltese law shall still apply. A number of immunities and privileges are mentioned in the second bilateral treaty.
Getting to the Sovereign Military Order of Malta’s Private Leased Property in Fort St. Angelo
Step 1 – Valletta to Il Birgu / Citta Vittoriosa
To get to Fort St. Angelo, you need to first get a bus from Valletta (Malta’s capital city) to the city of Birgu / Il Birgu (one of three cities – the Tri-city). Once in Birgu / Il Birgu, you will become aware that the city is also sometimes referred to as Vittoriosa or Citta Vittoriosa.
Valletta’s main bus station is located actually just outside the city walls and is organised into three main parts – A, B and C. To get to Birgu (also referred to as Citta Vittoriosa) you need to go to the A part, nearest the city entrance. Here, head to the first three bays, A1, A2 and A3 and check for buses 2, 3 or 4. From here, buses 2, 3 and 4 all head to Birgu. Just wait and get the next one. They run all day. You can pay a single fare to the driver for 2 Euros, however I recommend getting a Tallinja Card – it’s a 7 day pass for EVERY bus route on Malta and Gozo and costs 21 Euros.
Get off the bus at the top of the hill in Il Birgu. There is a sign for a museum and cafe Riche is on the corner. Ask the driver if you are not sure – tell him Fort St. Angelo (or the nearest stop to it). The number 2 bus also goes straight into the town centre of Vittoriosa, but I wanted to walk this part.
Step 2 – Walking from the bus stop in Il Birgu to the entrance to Fort St. Angelo
There is only one entrance to Fort St. Angelo. I recommend walking down the main street in Il Birgu (Vittoriosa) called Main Gate Street. You go under the entrance arch and now you are in Vittoriosa.
On your left you will see a shop called “Gemstones”, pop in here and get a FREE map of Birgu and Vittoriosa. I also spoke to the nice gentleman in here about the history of the town and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.
After that, walk down the main street, Main Gate Street to the central square in Vittoriosa, known simply as Vittoriosa Square. Not only is Vittoriosa hugely historic, but the main square and buildings nearby also have some inklings of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. A flag of the country flies in the main square, next to an EU flag, a Malta flag and a Vittoriosa flag. There is a hospital nearby which was once owned and used by the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. I toured these sights on route to the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.
Step 3 – Walking From Vittoriosa Square to Fort St. Angelo
From the main square, head down to the left towards the docks and once you are at the Maritime Museum on the waterfront, go right along the bay and you will eventually arrive at the entrance to Fort St. Angelo. Head up the ramp into the fortress on route to the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. You will see the two flags flying side by side at the top of the fortress – this is the private area that you aim to backpack.
Step 4 – The Border Itself Between the Republic of Malta and The Sovereign Military Order of Malta Within Fort St. Angelo
The border itself is up in the top part of the fortress. If you are a normal tourist on the normal entrance fee to the fortress, you will SEE the entrance gate to The Sovereign Military Order of Malta Within Fort St. Angelo but you will not be able to enter. So get the private tour booked in advance and you can backpack it, I explain how to book it here.
The border is the entry gate to the upper part of the fortress, listed on the guide map to Fort St. Angelo as number 6 (the Upper, Private part). There is strictly no access for normal tourists without a guide. But as I mentioned, it’s easy to book and arrange providing you do your research in advance. The border crossing is this simple – you walk to the entrance. Your guide opens the black gates with a key and you walk in. There is no check. There is a sign that proves this is the actual border, it says: Sovereign Military Order of Malta – Fort St. Angelo Top Section.
There is also a sign on the left (in English – despite the main languages being Maltese, Latin and Italian) that says “PRIVATE: Authorised Entry Only”.
Visas and Passport Stamps for The Sovereign Military Order of Malta Within Fort St. Angelo
There is no visa required, you just need to have paid your 5 Euros ticket price for the guided tour. This acts as your entry confirmation. You will be with a guide. You do not therefore need a visa, or even a passport. On entering the black gate into The Sovereign Military Order of Malta there is no border guard and no passport check or passport stamp. Your guide will have a key to the gate and they open it and you follow them in. It is that simple. I asked on the day if I could get a passport stamp or buy any coins, notes or stamps and the answer was no. However, contacting the country through their official website and you can do it.
Souvenirs from The Sovereign Military Order of Malta Within Fort St. Angelo
I love to collect souvenirs however, so I made sure I had postcards, a keyring, fridge magnet all with the country’s flag on it, as well as my maps, ticket and guides. There is no shop inside the Sovereign Military Order of Malta Within Fort St. Angelo but there is a shop in St. Angelo Fortress and some good souvenirs shops in Vittoriosa and Valletta which sell merchandise related to the Sovereign Military Order of Malta Within Fort St. Angelo.
On the Rip!: Nearest Bar to the The Sovereign Military Order of Malta Within Fort St. Angelo
As a keen “beer backpacker” I was going to have a beer just outside the fortress in the nearest bar I could find in the country, then I realised there is a bar within the fortress with local Maltese beer, Cisk so I had one. It is one of the few countries where I won’t be able to do a “night on the rip” or “top 8.3 bars in the capital” in but I also like a celebratory beer when I backpack a new country, this was country 156 out of the golden list of 626 countries so I enjoyed the beer. I bought it and drank it in the museum shop inside Fort St. Angelo, some 50 metres from the entrance to the unusual country The Sovereign Military Order of Malta.
Backpacking in The Sovereign Military Order of Malta Within Fort St. Angelo
I have written a guide to my personal Top 22 sights in the Upper Section of Fort St. Angelo in the country. There are other places in the Republic of Malta where I backpacked through with some relevance to the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. It is a country with a fascinating and long history.
Here are some videos from my epic tour backpacking in The Sovereign Military Order of Malta: