The Borders of Liechtenstein

For such a tiny country, Liechtenstein has rather complicated internal borders.  The Alpine principality on the east bank of the Rhine is divided into eleven Gemeinden, or municipalities.  The manner in which these municipalities are divided, however, isn’t exactly conventional:

382px-Liechtenstein-admin

Source: Aotearoa, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Liechtenstein-admin.png.  Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence.

The capital of Vaduz, for example, has five different exclaves.  The largest city, Schaan, has four.  Balzers is in three pieces spread across the country.  Eschen, Gamprin, Planken, and Triesenbergalso all have exclaves.  So why the wildly disjointed municipal borders?  One must first compare where the town centres of each municipality are located in relation to the country’s terrain:

589px-Liechtenstein_topographic_map-fr

Source: Bourrichon, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Liechtenstein_topographic_map-fr.png.  Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence.

The towns are all located in the lowland strip in the west of the country, while their exclaves are almost all located in the mountainous east.  This arrangement allowed each municipality control of a mountainous area for timber supplies and meadows for grazing in addition to lowland agricultural areas and a commercial centre.  Prior to Liechtenstein’s head-on dive into the service economy, this would have been very important for the economic well-being of each municipality, ensuring each town had the resources it needed to subsist.  Even today, 6% of the national GDP comes from agriculture.  You may also notice that the three of the five northernmost municipalities (the Unterland) – Ruggell, Schellenberg, and Mauren – have no exclaves.  That’s because sitting at the narrow northern tip of the country, their territories encompass all four types of land contiguously.

The other reason for these strange borders is essentially the same reason for Liechtenstein’s continued existence as an independent entity: the legacy of feudal land holdings.  Families often had multiple land holdings that fell under their jurisdiction, and thus came with them once municipalities were established (on a side note, any municipality has the right to leave the principality, not that that will be happening anytime soon, if ever.  But if one did (except for Ruggell, Schellenberg, or Mauren), it would result in the most Swiss-cheesed country on Earth!).  Liechtenstein itself (as the county of Vaduz) was the 1342 creation of the Monfort dynasty; its current borders were established in 1434.  At this time, what would become Liechtenstein was merely a subdivision of a subdivision of the Holy Roman Empire.  This changed at the turn of the 18th century, when the territory came under the domain of Prince Johann Adam Andreas of Liechtenstein.  The House of Liechtenstein had major land holdings in Austria, Silesia, and Moravia, but none within the Holy Roman Empire, and thus was not eligible for a seat in the Empire’s Reichstag and all of the accordant privileges.  Prince Johann purchased the current territory in two pieces (Schellenberg in 1699, Vaduz in 1712), giving it the name of the family, and in 1719 the Principality of Liechtenstein was formalised.  When the Holy Roman Empire collapsed at the hands of Napoleon in 1806, Liechtenstein gained sovereignty, joining first the Confederation of the Rhine and then the German Confederation.  Total independence was achieved in 1866 when the latter confederation ended, and the principality declared international neutrality.

Castle_Liechtenstein

Castle Liechtenstein, Lower Austria, from which the House of Liechtenstein – and thus the country – takes its name.  Source: K. Gruber, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Castle_Liechtenstein.jpg.  Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence.

Were it not for World War II, Liechtenstein’s boundaries could be even more complicated.  Through the 19thand early 20th centuries, the House of Liechtenstein continued to hold onto its land in what were now Austria, Poland, and Czechoslovakia (until 1938, the princes of Liechtenstein lived in Vienna).  At the end of World War II, Czechoslovakia confiscated the lands and the properties within from the family, who were considered Germans by the new governments of the two countries.  The land amounted to 1 600 km2 (600 sq mi) of property including castles, farmland and woodland.  Had those possessions remained intact, Liechtenstein could have technically consisted of a patchwork of disconnected land parcels, but that’s purely hypothetical.  Instead, the end result was the refusal of Czechoslovakia, and its two successor states, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, to recognise the principality at all (it didn’t help that under its policy of neutrality Liechtenstein gave asylum to the First Russian National Army, who collaborated with Germany).  At one point, Liechtenstein sued Germany to get the land back (it was thought that it was impossible to sue the Czech Republic since there were no relations between the two).  It would not be until September 2009 that relations between the Czechs and the Liechtensteiners were finally normalised.  Slovakia came aboard that December.  Things are much more cordial now; Prince Hans-Adam II and Czech prime Jan Fischer even co-hosted an art exhibition in May 2010.  The land dispute, however, is still technically up in the air.

Lednice_castle

Lednice Castle is one of the centrepieces of the Lednice–Valtice Cultural Landscape, a sprawling landscape of castles, gardens, meadows and villages developed by the Liechtenstein during the 19thcentury in Moravia.  Source: Acp, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lednice_castle.jpg.  Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence.

As it stands, Liechtenstein remains a small and compact 160.48 km2 (61.96 sq mi ) – all of which is listed for rent starting at the low, low price of $70 000 a night (minimum two night stay with six months’ notice, of course).  Renting the scenic principality gives you accommodation for up to 150 people, plus the services of the national police force.  You’ll be honoured with a key to the country in a special ceremony at the state parliament, and be treated to a wine tasting at the prince’s personal cellar.  So far the only one publicly known to have tried this is Snoop Dogg, who was apparently looking to shoot a music video there during the summer of 2010, but his request was turned since not enough notice was given.

Further Reading

Cameron, R. (2009).  Liechtenstein, Czech Republic establish relations after long property dispute.  Radio Praha, 9 September 2009.  Available at http://www.radio.cz/en/section/curraffrs/liechtenstein-czech-republic-establish-relations-after-long-property-dispute.  Accessed 29 October 2011.

Fisher, M. (2011).  Snoop Dogg Tried to Rent Liechtenstein.  The Atlantic Wire, 6 July 2011.  Available at http://www.theatlanticwire.com/entertainment/2010/07/snoop-dogg-tried-to-rent-liechtenstein/19406/.  Accessed 29 October 2011.

Government Legal Services of the Principality of Liechtenstein (2009).  Constitution of the Principality of Liechtenstein.  Vaduz: Regierung des Fürstentums Liechtenstein.  Available at http://www.llv.li/verfassung-e-01-02-09.doc.pdf.  Accessed 29 October 2011.

Jacobs, F. (2008).  322 – The ‘claves of Liechtenstein.  Strange Maps, 23 October 2008.  Available at http://bigthink.com/ideas/21375?page=all.  Accessed 29 October 2011.

Sinmaz, E. (2011).  Liechtenstein for hire at $70,000 a night.  The Guardian, 15 April 2011.  Available at http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/apr/15/liechtenstein-hire-rental-scheme.  Accessed 29 October 2011.

World Wine Safaris (2011).  What do we mean when we say “Rent a Country?”  8 October 2011.  Available at http://www.worldwinesafaris.com/2011/10/08/what-do-you-mean-when-you-say-%E2%80%9Crent-a-country%E2%80%9D/.  Accessed 29 October 2011.

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4 thoughts on “The Borders of Liechtenstein


  • ''As it stands, Liechtenstein remains a small and compact 160.475 km2 ''
    The area is 160 km2, not 160.000…

    Many regards from Croatia!


  • Hi, Anonymous,

    I believe there's some confusion over numerical notation here; the period represents a decimal, not a separator for values of one thousand (which would be written as 160 000 or 160,000). Thanks for pointing out the ambiguity, however; I'll round the decimal down to make it clearer.


  • Sorry for misunderstanding, my numerical notation is different: I use dot to separate thousands and comma for decimal. Anyway, thank you! I stay your biggest admirer in Croatia

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