The Republic of San Marino is a micro state, located approximately 24km from Rimini. It is completely surrounded by Italy. Its official name is The Most Serene Republic of San Marino (Serenissima Repubblica di San Marino). It is the only modern independent state that uses such style for its name. Its territory is just over 61 km2, with the population of approximately 34000 people. The capital city is The City of San Marino.
1. ABOUT THE REPUBLIC
The country takes its name from Marinus. He was a stonemason from a Roman colony on the island of Rab. After the Diocletianic persecution following his Christian sermons, he escaped from Rimini to the nearby Mount Titano. There he built a small church and founded what is now the city and the state of San Marino. The Republic was officially founded on 3 September 301. The Papacy recognised its independence in 1631. San Marino relentlessly reminds everyone of the fact that it is a sovereign state. You can see it at every corner around the City of San Marino.
The country’s economy mainly relies on finance, industry, services and tourism. In terms of GDP (per capita), it is among the wealthiest countries in the world, with a figure comparable to Denmark. San Marino is not a member of the European Union and the Eurozone, but it uses Euro as its currency. San Marino is the third smallest country in Europe. Only Vatican City and Monaco are smaller. It is also the fifth smallest country in the world. The highest point in the country is the summit of Mount Titano, 749m above the sea level. From this point, views of the surrounding area are spectacular.
2. THE CITY OF SAN MARINO
The City of San Marino is the capital city of the Republic. It has a population of just over 4000 people and it occupies western slopes of the highest point of Mount Titano. The history of the city is almost the same as the history of the republic. It was the only city in the country for a very long time. But when the population of the city started to increase, the country extended its territory by a few square kilometres. Sanmarinese policy was not to invade or to use war to obtain new territories. Consequently, San Marino obtained the other eight “castelli” by means of purchases and treaties, forming the country as it is now.
I have already been to San Marino before. I went there in 2002 for the first time, then in 2009 and 2012. Anyhow, during my most recent two week stay in Italy in August 2018, I took the opportunity to once again visit this beautiful city. I was in Riccione and from there it took approximately 30 minutes by car. A motorway connects San Marino and Rimini and the journey was very fast and easy.
San Marino is a sovereign country and it takes its nationhood as seriously as all other countries. I say this for the sake of anyone who may struggle to fully understand that this small territory has nothing to do with Italy, although it is located inside of the Italian peninsula. The border crossing between Italy and San Marino is clearly marked, thus you are fully aware once you cross from one country to another. There are no passport and customs controls at the border, which means that you don’t need to carry your passport when you travel to San Marino. I assume that the identity document that you usually carry with you should be sufficient in case you are required to show it for some reason.
3. HISTORICAL CENTRE
The historical centre of the City of San Marino is what everyone comes to see. It is small and very beautiful, parts of it are medieval, some buildings are newer. In reality, to see everything in a relaxed an unhurried way, one day visit is more than sufficient. There is really no need to stay in San Marino, although there are hotels for people that choose to spend some time there. If you happen to be anywhere on the Riviera Romagnola, visit this fascinating country. Also, it is more expensive than the neighbouring Italy, primarily because it is a very popular tourist destination and it is much richer than Italy. Approximately 2 million tourists visit it annually.
Porta del Loco, the entrance to the historical centre where I arrived, is on Via Panna.
Once you enter, you are surrounded by medieval buildings. The most prominent one that you will immediately notice is the Church of San Francesco (Chiesa di San Francesco). Construction of the church started in 1351 and lasted until nearly 1400.
From there, the road will take you to the small square where you will find Hotel Titano.
The Public Palace (Palazzo Pubblico) is at the same time the town hall of the City of San Marino, as well as the official government building where official state ceremonies take place. It is also the seat of the Republic’s main institutions and administration. The overall design of the building is similar to Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, but on a smaller scale. Constructed between 1884 and 1894, it is now one of the most recognisable symbols of San Marino.
The Basilica di San Marino is the main church of the City of San Marino. It is located in Piazza Domus Plebis. The church was built in 1836 in the neoclassical style, in the place of an earlier church from the 7th century.
4. MOUNT TITANO
The most important historical site that you can see in San Marino are three towers on Mount Titano. When you look at San Marino from the Italian coast, you can clearly see these three towers on top of the mountain. The towers were protecting the urban heart of the city.
The first tower – Guaita – was constructed in the 11th century as an impenetrable fortress.
It briefly served as a prison and was rebuilt many times. However, its current form is from the 15th century, which was at the time of the war between San Marino and Malatesta of Rimini.
The tower is open to the public, the entrance fee is Euro 4.50. The tower is impressive, although there is not very much to see inside. Still, you can try to imagine how it must have been for people that resided in the tower while they were protecting the city.
The courtyard is very small and it is also possible to go inside of the tower.
The second tower – Cesta – constructed in the 13th century on remains of an older Roman fort is on the highest summit of Mount Titano.
A short walk from the first to the second tower takes you to the entrance of the second tower. You can also visit the second tower.
A museum in honour of Saint Marinus is in this tower. There you can see over 1550 weapons, from the medieval era to the modern day. I visited the first tower, so I did not visit the second one and the museum, mainly because I didn’t have enough time.
The third tower Montale, constructed in the 14th century, completed the defensive system. This tower is the smallest of all. In fact, it is just a tower unlike the other two which are actually fortresses. Montale was a prison and the only entrance was a door some seven metres from the ground level. That was common for prison architecture of that time. Montale is on the smallest and the last summit of Mount Titano.
All three towers, when seen together, look magnificent. The historical centre of the City of San Marino and Mount Titano became UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2008.
5. THE REST OF SAN MARINO
Main historical sites are what everyone inevitably wants to see in San Marino. But, there are also small and narrow medieval alleyways, piazzas and small churches. They are all over the city. You can therefore easily spend several hours wandering around and exploring the place.
The City of San Marino is magical. Its dramatic position high on top of the mountain, combined with its splendid architecture is why it is the top tourist destination. But, such popularity comes with a price. Thus, despite the incredible beauty that surrounds you, you will also find one big tourist shopping centre. All shops mainly sell souvenirs, perfumes, handbags and everything else that may entice you to spend your money. If you can ignore this aspect and if you only pay attention to buildings and main historical sites, San Marino is unforgettable.
In a way, it’s a pity that the City of San Marino is not entirely an authentic city. Nearby cities and towns in neighbouring Italy are equally aesthetically beautiful, but there you can see and feel that people live. Maybe, that’s the price the city has to pay because it is in a dramatic location and with exquisite architecture. A place that everyone wants to visit!
This aspect of the city was a bit of a disappointment for me. Still, I enjoyed the visit and towards the end of the day, I left through Porta del Loco and returned to Italy.