A Man buys an Island in Portugal and Establishes his Own Kingdom
56-year-old Renato Barros, bought a tiny island off the coast of Madeira and proclaimed himself Prince Renato II of the Principality Pontinha.
Perhaps Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince is far more embedded in the collective imagination than we think, and perhaps this the most charming example. 56-year-old Renato Barros, bought a tiny island off the coast of Madeira and proclaimed himself Prince Renato II of the Principality Pontinha, as he decided to name his island.
In fact, Pontinha is the size of a one-bedroom house, and it only has four citizens: Barros, his wife and their two children. In addition to his Portuguese passport, Renato has a Pontinha passport numbered 0001. His princedom is one of the purest to have ever existed: Renato II is at times a gardener, policeman, guard or simply the sovereign observer of his rock in the middle of the sea.
He does not believe in borders and allows tourists to visit every day; even if, he points out, he sometimes needs to be there alone in order to rest from Portugal’s great extremes. “I am whatever I want to be – that’s the dream, isn’t it?” says the prince. “If I decide I want to have a national song, I can choose it, and I can change it any time. The same with my flag – it could be blue today, red tomorrow. Of course, my power is only absolute here, where I am the true sovereign.”
Barros had the opportunity to buy the island fourteen years ago, when the wealthy British family that owned it wanted to sell it for 25,000 Euros because they had no use for it. At the time nobody wanted to buy it, but when this eccentric Portuguese found out, he decided it was exactly what he needed. There was just one problem: he didn’t have the money.
He tried to find partners to buy it; however, they all took him for a madman because he wanted to spend so much money on what was essentially a big rock with a cave, a platform, without electricity or running water. Finally, this odd character gathered enough money by selling practically all of his possessions. When the King of Portugal originally sold the island in 1903, he signed a document selling all the island’s “possessions and domains”. Hence, Barros knew exactly what he was doing: acquiring absolute, unfettered, liberty to be the king of his own domain. The royal document meant he could do as he wished with it; open a restaurant or a movie theater… But no one thought he would want to open a country. And that’s what he did.
What came next is even more endearing. As the Royal Sovereign of the Principality of Pontinha, Renato II paid a diplomatic visit to the governor of Madeira. In response, the governor threatened to cut off his electricity if he didn’t sell the island back to the state. Barros simply installed a solar panel and a small windmill to generate his own electricity.
Even though Pontinha hasn’t gotten the official rights of a country, the international community, including the government of Portugal and the United Nations are reviewing its case.
Pontinha means “a point”. “All change in the world begins with something very small, and this is my country – just a little point,” says Prince Renato II.
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