You’ve probably heard of Liechtenstein and know that it is one of the smallest countries in the world, but how much do you really know about this tiny principality sandwiched between Switzerland and Austria? Given how few fun facts (or really any facts) most people know about Liechtenstein, we thought it was time for another entry in our series of Facts You Might Not Have Known: Liechtenstein edition!
1. Liechtenstein is a principality.
Like many European countries, Liechtenstein is a constitutional monarchy. Unlike other countries, however, the head of state is not a king or a queen, but rather a prince. The current head of House Liechtenstein is Prince Hans-Adam II, who ascended to the Liechtenstein throne in 1989.
The principality of Liechtenstein dates backs to the 17th century when Karl I of Liechtenstein was made a prince by Holy Roman Emperor Matthias. His son, Hans-Adam, purchased the Lordship of Schellenberg and county of Vaduz. These lands were under no other control other than the allegiance owed to the Holy Roman Emperor.
Today, the Liechtenstein family is actually in the Jacobin line of succession to the British Crown.
Princess Angela of Liechtenstein, wife of Prince Maximilian, was the first person of African descent to marry into a European royal family—she was born in Panama. (For those who love the British Royals you’ll know that Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, is the latest to follow in Princess Angela’s footsteps).
2. It’s one of the smallest countries in the world.
If you already know a few fun facts about Liechtenstein, then one thing you’re already likely aware of is that the country is small—seriously tiny.
That said, while Liechtenstein is small, it’s not the smallest country in the world, or even in Europe.
At 160 km2, it’s the sixth smallest country in the world by land area. Only Vatican City, Monaco, Tuvalu, Nauru, and San Marino are smaller.
With a population of 38,019, it is also the sixth smallest country by population size, with only the Vatican, Tuvalu, Nauru, Palau, and San Marino having smaller populations.
Despite being so small, it’s a member of the UN, UNESCO, FIFA, and the International Olympic Committee. It is not, however, a member of the European Union or the Eurozone.
3. Liechtenstein raised money for the country by selling its art.
Because the Liechtenstein family is so intimately tied to the country, historically the finances of one would impact the other. Like most royal families in Europe, the Liechtensteins have a very large collection of art.
In the late 1960s, they were having financial problems, so they sold their copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s Ginevra de’ Benci to the National Art Gallery in Washington. The $5 million paid was a record at the time for the sale of a painting.
Today, the Liechtenstein family’s art collection is split between Vaduz Castle and Vienna.
Since the sale of the da Vinci in 1967, the family’s art collection has grown substantially and many works are on loan for display in China.
4. The prince offered to sell the country to Bill Gates.
Back in 2001, the Prince was trying to push through a series of constitutional reforms to give himself more power—namely the right to veto and appoint judges.
As the debate raged, the Prince threatened to leave the country and take his family’s holdings with him to Vienna if he didn’t win. As for the country: He’d sell it to “Bill Gates or anyone else who can afford it”.
It’s debatable if you can actually sell a country to someone else, but it would have been pretty neat if this had actually happened.
In the end, the Prince got his way and the people supported him in a referendum.
5. The Liechtenstein family collectively is a billionaire.
The Liechtenstein family is the wealthiest royal family in Europe. Even though the assets of the British Crown are much larger, they are technically held by The Crown Estate, which is an entity owned by the British Government.
The assets of the Liechtenstein family are personally owned. The primary asset is a private bank, the LGT Group. This is a legitimate private business operated separately from the government of the country and it’s not a national bank.
It’s estimated that the Liechtenstein family’s net worth is over $5 billion, which is 10 times greater than the private net worth of Queen Elizabeth II.
6. Liechtenstein was accidentally invaded by Switzerland.
The border between Switzerland and Liechtenstein is open and totally unmarked. As such, there have been several incidents in history where the Swiss military has accidentally entered Liechtenstein territory.
The most famous incident was in 2007, when 171 Swiss soldiers took a wrong turn in bad weather and wound up in Liechtenstein. They didn’t get more than 2 km into Liechtenstein before they realized the mistake and turned back.
No one in Liechtenstein was even aware that this had happened until the Swiss notified them to apologize.
The Liechtenstein government shrugged it off, saying, “It’s not like they invaded with attack helicopters. No problem, these things happen.”
In both 1968 and 1985, artillery shells launched by Swiss troops landed within Liechtenstein. In neither case was anyone harmed.
7. Liechtenstein is a doubly landlocked country.
A landlocked country is one without access to the sea.
A doubly landlocked country is one that not only does not have access to the sea, but is also totally surrounded by landlocked countries.
Switzerland and Austria are Liechtenstein’s only neighbors and both of these are landlocked countries.
The only other doubly landlocked country in the world is Uzbekistan.
8. Liechtenstein has won more Olympic medals per capita than any other country.
The International Olympic Committee goes out of its way to make sure that every country is represented at the Olympic Games. Even if it has absolutely no chance of winning anything, even the smallest countries in the world participate as a show of unity.
None of the really small countries of the world have ever had any success at the Olympics—the populations are generally too small to support top-tier athletes.
However, there is one notable exception: Liechtenstein. It has won a whopping 10 medals at the Olympics over the years.
All of Liechtenstein’s Olympics success orbits around one sport: Alpine skiing. The country boasts an Olympic medal for approximately every 3,800 people in the country!
Here is a complete list of all the Liechtenstein Olympic medalists.
|Bronze||Willi Frommelt||1976 Innsbruck||Alpine skiing||Men’s slalom|
|Bronze||Hanni Wenzel||1976 Innsbruck||Alpine skiing||Women’s slalom|
|Gold||Hanni Wenzel||1980 Lake Placid||Alpine skiing||Women’s giant slalom|
|Gold||Hanni Wenzel||1980 Lake Placid||Alpine skiing||Women’s slalom|
|Silver||Hanni Wenzel||1980 Lake Placid||Alpine skiing||Women’s downhill|
|Silver||Andreas Wenzel||1980 Lake Placid||Alpine skiing||Men’s giant slalom|
|Bronze||Andreas Wenzel||1984 Sarajevo||Alpine skiing||Men’s giant slalom|
|Bronze||Ursula Konzett||1984 Sarajevo||Alpine skiing||Women’s slalom|
|Bronze||Paul Frommelt||1988 Calgary||Alpine skiing||Men’s slalom|
|Bronze||Tina Weirather||2018 Pyeongchang||Alpine skiing||Women’s super-G|
9. Everyone in the country is invited by the prince for drinks.
Liechtenstein’s national day, Staatsfeiertag, takes place on August 15. On this day, everyone in the country is invited to Vaduz Castle for speeches, fireworks, and a beer-and-wine reception in the garden—all of which is hosted by the Prince.
This is probably the only country in the world celebrating with an annual party thrown by the country’s ruler and entirely paid for by the government. Liechtenstein is one of the only countries small enough and rich enough to have this sort of celebration.
10. It’s the false teeth capital of the world.
The Liechtenstein company Ivoclar Vivadent produces of 20% of the false teeth in the world. There aren’t many producers of false teeth, and the economy of Liechtenstein isn’t very big. That means it’s the only country in the world listing false teeth manufacturing as one of its primary exports.
The company actually makes a wide range of dental products beyond false teeth, though still mostly supplying dentists.
11. You used to be able to book the whole country on Airbnb.
In 2011, the entire country was put up on Airbnb.
For a fee of $70,000 a day, you could “rent” Liechtenstein. For that amount, you would get accommodations for 150 people, temporary renaming of street signs, a temporary custom-made currency, ceremonial keys to the Principality, and a wine tasting at the Prince’s estate. For additional fees, you could witness a medieval procession, and a have huge logo made out of wax.
No one actually took advantage of the offer. A wedding party was planning to do it at one point, but the wedding was called off and it never happened—which is a shame as that would have been a world first!
12. Liechtenstein’s national anthem is set to the same tune as the UK’s national anthem.
The national anthem of Liechtenstein is called “Oben am jungen Rhein” (Up above the young Rhine). Take a listen.
Notice anything familiar?
It’s the exact same tune as “God Save the Queen,” but with different, German lyrics.
Back in the 19th century, the tune was actually used by several German-speaking countries, including Saxony, Prussia, Bavaria, and Switzerland. Three of those ceased being countries, and Switzerland got itself a new, more original, anthem. Liechtenstein, however, just stuck with what worked.
13. Fascinating fact: The Liechtenstein Flag was once the same as Haiti!
Not only did it use another country’s national anthem, but it also had another country’s flag!
The original flag of Liechtenstein had been in use since 1764. When the country showed up at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Liechtensteiners were surprised to find out that they had the exact same flag as Haiti! Both flags consisted of a blue top half and red bottom half. (The version of the Haitian flag with the coat of arms is the national flag flown on government buildings—the civil flag doesn’t use the coat of arms.)
The next year, Liechtenstein added the crown to the upper left corner of the flag to avoid confusion.
14. It was the last European country to allow women to vote.
Most people think of Europe as being rather progressive. However, Liechtenstein was the last country in Europe—and, in fact, the last developed nation in the world—to allow women the right to vote.
There was a referendum putting the question of women voting on the ballot took took place in 1984. Of course, only men were able to vote in the referendum, so it only narrowly passed with 51% of the vote.
Women were then able to actually cast a ballot in the next election, which took place in 1986.
15. The Liechtenstein family owns even more land in the Czech Republic.*
This one has an asterisk next to it because the land in question is disputed. However, the Liechtenstein family, like all good royal families, owned land all over the place.
Prior to the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, the Liechtenstein family had extensive holdings in the country. In particular, this included the Lednice Castle in the region of Monrovia.
At the end of WWII, the communist government seized the property of Germans who were accused of collaborating with the Nazis. This included lands held by the Liechtenstein family.
The Liechtenstein family claims it isn’t German and it didn’t collaborate with the Nazis, so it shouldn’t have had personal property seized. The communist Czechoslovakian government didn’t really care, so as you would expect, there were no diplomatic relations between the two countries over the dispute.
Once communism fell, the new Czech government didn’t reinstate the property, and the Liechtenstein government still refused to recognize the Czech Republic.
It wasn’t until 2009 that the two countries finally recognized each other and agreed to establish a commission to look into the matter.
The interesting bit is that the lands claimed in the Czech Republic are larger than the country of Liechtenstein!
16. The 11 municipalities of Liechtenstein have the right to secede.
Liechtenstein is made up of 11 separate municipalities. In the Liechtenstein constitution, each municipality has the right to secede from the country if its residents vote for it.
That means, at least in theory, one of the smallest countries in the world could split up into 11 even smaller countries!
17. Its last military action was in 1866.
Currently, Liechtenstein has no military. Its last military action of any sort took place in 1866, during the Austro-Prussian War.
When most countries send their troops off to war, usually fewer return than were sent. Liechtenstein, as you are seeing, is different.
The country sent 80 men off to war and none of them were killed or injured. Along the way, the soldiers met an Italian who decided to join them and march back to Liechtenstein. When they returned, they had 81 men in their ranks! This is, perhaps, the only case of a military unit getting larger after fighting in a war.
Keen to learn a bit about another little-known country? Read our 8 Interesting Facts About Tuvalu post!