While this American searched the entire African continent for a piece of land to call his Kingdom, Renato Barros managed to establish his own country much closer to home. The 56-year-old Portuguese citizen purchased a small island on Funchal harbor, in Maderia, Portugal. He named it the Principality of the Pontinha, and anointed himself Prince Renato II.
Pontinha is actually just the size of a one-bedroom house, and has only four citizens – Barros, his wife, and his son and daughter. In addition to his Portuguese passport, Barros holds a passport for Pontinha with the number 0001. An art teacher by profession, he’s also taken on the roles of policeman, gardener, caretaker, and member of the royal family of his very own country.
“I am whatever I want to be – that’s the dream, isn’t it,” he said. “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 got a chance to buy the island fourteen years ago, when it was owned by a wealthy British family who wanted to sell it for 25,000 Euros ($31,000), because it was of no use to them. Nobody wanted to buy it, but when Barros heard of the opportunity at a party, he decided that it was just the thing for him. There was only one snag – he didn’t have the money.
Barros tried to find business partners, but they all thought he was crazy to want to spend so much money on what was essentially a large rock – with a cave, a platform, no electricity and no running water. So he ended up selling several of his possessions, pooled in all of his savings, and bought the place for himself. Naturally, his wife, family and friends all thought he’d lost his mind.
But he was confident of his purchase because he knew it would give him what he wanted – uninhibited freedom. “When the King of Portugal originally sold the island in 1903, he and all the governors signed a document, selling all the “possessions and the dominions” of the island,” Barros explained. “It means I can do what I want with it – I could start a restaurant, or a cinema, but nobody thought that someone would want to start a country. So that’s what I did: I decided that this would no longer be just a rocky outcrop on the port of Funchal, it would be my island, about the size of a one-bedroom house.”
After he bought the rock, Barros made a diplomatic visit to the governor of Madeira, introducing himself as the ruler of the neighboring state. In response, the governor threatened to refuse him electricity unless he sold the island back to the state. Barros wasn’t interested in the offer, so he simply set up a solar panel and a small windmill to generate his own electricity.