The distinctive rocky ridges of Monte Titano soar to 756 metres above sea level (almost 700 metres from their base) and are visible from afar. They look really imposing. This is where the capital city of San Marino, called San Marino as well, is located.
It is the only Italian city-state to have maintained its autonomy from the very beginning of its existence (except for the Papal State, of course), resisting the process of the unification of Italy.
Although the blog is essentially Italian, I hope you don’t mind a nice trip to this charming neighbour of Italy.
San Marino, with a surface of just 61.2 sq km and a population of 30.5 thousand, is the third smallest state in Europe after the Vatican City and Monaco. A short circular trip around a small hill and you could claim to have seen the country from all sides :). But it’s definitely worth taking a look from the top of the hill!
From the Saint to the republic: a brief history of San Marino
The early history of San Marino is linked to the cult of its patron saint, Saint Marinus, who is said to have founded the city. The legend has it that Marinus (or Marino in Italian), a 3rd-century stonemason from Dalmatia, ascended Monte Titano and there he founded a small community of Christians persecuted for their faith at the time of Emperor Diocletian. The community evolved into a society–and thus the history of the Republic of San Marino started.
And when I say “republic”, it is for a reason. San Marino is believed to be the world’s oldest republic, established as early as 301 AD, i.e. when the first local community emerged. It was initially governed by an assembly consisting of the head of each family. Ever since the 13th century, when the Holy See confirmed the independence of San Marino, two Captains Regent have been elected every six months to serve as a collective head of state.
San Marino on the UNESCO World Heritage List
In 2008, the UNESCO Committee appreciated the unique scenic value of San Marino as well as its historical significance: the historical center of the town of San Marino along with San Borgo Maggiore and Monte Titano were included on the prestigious UNESCO World Heritage List.
With its history dating back to the beginnings of the republican city-state in the 13th century, San Marino is presented as an example of a centuries-old tradition of a free republic. Thanks to its position atop Mount Titano, the place has survived intact, without any major changes in its urban shape. The historic center is still inhabited and serves all its institutional functions. It is an exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition that has lasted 700 years and is still alive.
A walk across the historic San Marino
The town of San Marino is perched on a high cliff. The wonderful panorama of Italy lying at its foot is unforgettable. The streets and buildings, ascending in terraces, make you feel as if conquering a fortress as you climb up to finally reach the main stronghold – Rocca Guaita. The summit offers a view of two more fortresses, Rocca Cesta and Rocca Montale, as well as well-preserved walls, towers, bastions and gates to the city.
Once you’re in the historical center, you should visit Palazzo Publico at Piazza della Libertá – the seat of the government, monasteries from the 14th and 16th centuries, the 18th-century Titano Theatre and the neoclassical Basilica dello Santo, hosting the relics of the city’s founder. For me personally San Marino is, more than anything else, a lovely mosaic of streets, squares and buildings surrounded by walls with gates and bastions. And breathtaking views.
For many tourists, duty-free shopping is a must here. The streets are lined with boutiques selling watches, perfumes, liquors, sunglasses. A bit like at an airport …
San Marino is an enclave within Italy, in its central part. You hardly notice crossing the border: the inhabitants speak Italian and although formally the country is not part of the Schengen Area, it has an open border with the EU. It also uses the euro as its currency, but mints its own coins – so don’t be surprised if you come across euro coins with images of the Palazzo Publico or castles of San Marino, not to be seen anywhere else in Europe.
And here’s a downloadable map of San Marino for you, from the country’s official website. Enjoy!