Small but proud
By Nora Fahmi
Majestic fortresses, dramatic cliffs, quaint cobblestone streets, lush forests … An abundance of beauty and charm is what makes up the oldest independent republic and fifth smallest country in the world: San Marino. Spread on merely 61 square kilometers, the country’s multifaceted character attracts legions of tourists every year. Proudly independent and enviably located near the Adriatic coast, it is bordered by the regions of Emilia-Romagna and Le Marche. Roughly 20 kilometres from Rimini, many choose the lively seaside resort as a home base for visiting the pocket-size republic. Indeed, the regular bus service that links the two makes for an easy day trip.
From small church to UNESCO World Heritage Site
San Marino’s founder and patron is said to be the saint of the same name, a Dalmatian stone-mason who fled religious persecution and found refuge atop the steep and rugged hill of Monte Titano. The city and capital San Marino flourished around the humble church he built.
In 2008, during the UNESCO Committee meeting in Québec, it was unanimously decided to include the historic centre of San Marino and Mount Titano in the esteemed list of World Heritage Sites – a significant recognition for such a little piece of territory!
With plenty of beautiful churches to visit, perhaps the most captivating is the Basilica di San Marino. Built in neoclassical style in 1836, the saint’s relics are preserved in an urn inside the church.
A leisurely passeggiata
Wandering souls can enjoy a stroll along the dreamy narrow streets which make up San Marino’s old-town centre situated on top of Mount Titano. Indeed, the centre’s imposing medieval stone walls set the stage for a very picturesque walk. At 750 metres above sea level, there is no lack of breathtaking panoramic views at which to marvel.
Tower aficionados: San Marino will not disappoint you. Three impressive towers proudly rise above the three peaks of Mount Titano. Easily accessible, they are linked by a trail that runs along the hill. The oldest and most known, Guaita, dates back to the 11th century. The second, Cesta, was built in the 13th century and is located on the highest peak of Monte Titano. Within the tower, a museum honouring the patron saint displays an important collection of over 1550 weapons dating from the medieval era to modern day. The third tower, Montale, looks over Monte Titano’s smallest peak. Constructed in the 14th century, it is closed to the public. Considerably less busy, the spectacular views can be admired more peacefully from here.
After exploring the three fascinating towers, many like to dive into some duty-free shopping in the plethora of quirky shops that line the streets of the old-town. Purses, sunglasses, toys of all sorts and replica weaponry are among the best selling items.
Nine towns or castelli (castles) make up the Republic. The most important is, of course, the capital San Marino. The eight others, however, each have something to offer to the curious visitor who has a little more time. Those who wish to veer off the beaten path will most certainly opt for discovering the old market town of Borgo Maggiore at the foot of Monte Titano. With its historical centre on the list of Unesco World Heritage Sites, churches and monuments top the list of things to see. A cableway links Borgo Maggiore to San Marino’s centre.
A place of traditions
Being an independent republic, San Marino has its own (very small!) militia. The Guardia di Rocca, with their fancy red and green uniforms, are especially popular during the summer months when they perform their unique changing of the guard ceremony at the Palazzo Pubblico, the national government’s seat. The colourful ceremony is conducted every half-hour.
Another noteworthy event takes place in the historic centre of San Marino in the month of July: the Giornate Medioevali (Medieval Days). On this occasion, the centre becomes a medieval village where music, artisan workshops and fun activities entertain festivalgoers. A feast of colors and flavours, it’s a perfect occasion to discover the world’s oldest republic.