by Scott Mehl
Donna Paola Margherita Maria Antonia Consiglia Ruffo di Calabria was born September 11, 1937, in Forte dei Marmi, Tuscany, the 7th and youngest child of Prince Fulco Ruffo di Calabria and Countess Luisa Gazelli dei Conti de Rossana e di Sebastiano. She was raised in Rome, where she attended school.
In 1958, Paola met her future husband, Albert, Prince of Liège – the future King Albert II – at the installation of Pope John XXIII in Rome. Albert was the second son of the former King Leopold III and the younger brother of King Baudouin. Both Paola and Albert attended a reception at the Belgian Embassy where they were introduced. The following year, their engagement was announced.
After briefly considering holding the wedding at the Vatican, the government stepped in and insisted that they marry in Belgium. The wedding was held on July 2, 1959, at St. Michael and St. Gulda Cathedral in Brussels. Upon marriage, Paola became a Princess of Belgium and was styled Princess of Liège. The couple had three children – Philippe (1960), Astrid (1962) and Laurent (1963), and 12 grandchildren.
On July 31, 1993, Albert’s brother, King Baudouin, passed away suddenly at his holiday home in Portugal. Albert succeeded to the throne, and Paola became Queen of the Belgians. As Queen, Paola worked closely with The Queen’s Charities to promote her involvement in social projects and assisting those in need throughout Belgium. She later established the Queen Paola Foundation which focuses on youth and education, particularly for those in disadvantaged areas. In addition, Queen Paola has been very involved in the areas of art and music.
On July 21, 2013, after nearly 30 years on the throne, King Albert II abdicated in favor of their eldest son, Philippe. The couple continues to reside at Chateau Belevedere, located within the Royal Park at Laeken.