She is the youngest daughter of Prince Fulco Ruffo di Calabria, hero Officer-Flyer during W.W.1 and of Countess Louisa Gazelli of Piedmont origin.
The Ruffo family consisted of seven children: three sons, one of whom died very young in W.W.II, and four girls, only two of whom are still alive. Her paternal grandmother was Belgian.
The Queen was raised in Rome, where she finished a classic secondary school programme with Latin and Greek.
She met the then Prince Albert in 1958 as he was representing his brother King Badouin at the funeral of Pope Pius XII and the coronation of Pope John XXIII.
They were married on July 2, 1959 in Brussels. They have three children: Prince Philippe (b. 15 April 1960), Princess Astrid (b. 5 June 1962) and Prince Laurent (b. 19 October 1963).
Official duties/special interests
Although the Constitution does not provide a specific role for the Queen, she has always participated in many public activities.
She assists the King in the exercise of his duties as a Head of State: working visits of a mainly social nature, official ceremonies in Belgium and abroad, receptions with country representatives and various cultural activities.
The Queen takes a special interest in enhancing opportunities for all children and adolescents, in issues ranging from primary education to problems related to drugs; the recently reformed Queen Paola Foundation strives to support private or public initiatives which help youngsters facing poverty, fighting drug addiction or avoiding crime.
The Queen is interested in both new and traditional craftsmanship and in art history. As a nature lover, she personally designed her own garden and she closely supervises the maintenance of the various royal parks and gardens. Other hobbies include walking in the forest, playing tennis, reading, listening to music, watercolour painting and interior decoration.