Small places with great flags

Mighty countries have famous flags, but some of the smallest places in the world have interesting flags with unusual features. Gibraltar, San Marino and Malta are examples.

Rock Gibraltar England FlagsGIBRALTAR

Gibraltar is known for its famous rock and its position as a guardian to the entrance of the Mediterranean Sea. Owned by Great Britain, the city has its own flag, which has no hint of British influence. Instead, the Gibraltar flag is based on a Spanish coat of arms from the 1500s. The city didn’t get official permission to use it until the early 1980s.

Divided horizontally, one-third red and two-thirds white, the banner’s main images are a castle and a key. As explained in a government document, the flag shall have “a golden key which hangs by a chain from [a] castle.”

No such castle exists on the island. Rather, it stands metaphorically for the fortress of Gibraltar, which guards the Mediterranean. The key, in turn, is the key to entering that sea from the Atlantic.

San Marino's flag with coat of arms.SAN MARINO

One of the oldest nations in the world, San Marino was born in the fourth century. However, its flag would have to wait until 1797, 220 years ago, to be born.

Split horizontally in two, the San Marino flag is blue on the bottom (for the sky) and white on the top (for snow and clouds).

Period. There’s nothing more to it.

Unless you add the country’s busy coat of arms, described officially as “a closed crown, the symbol of sovereignty. The shield is azure” with three towers atop three mountains. The word “Libertas,” meaning freedom, appears on a scroll at the bottom.

Malta Blow Brier FlagMALTA

Unlike Gibraltar and San Marino, Malta divides its flag in two vertically, white on the left and red on the right. The only other item on the cloth is a cross on the upper left. Those elements have all evolved from the Knights of Malta of centuries ago.

First raised in 1964, the white cross, outlined in red to stand out from its surroundings, is called the George Cross Medal. That’s because King George VI of Great Britain awarded it to the islanders for their steadfastness during World War II.

The nation also has a president’s flag, which is entirely different from the national Malta flag. On a blue background lie four Maltese crosses, rendered in gold and situated in the corners. The center is taken up by the Shield of Malta, which is topped by a golden crown.

It’s a small place, but Malta still has plenty of room for flags.

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