Old Republic in the Heart of Italy
Old fortresses perched on top of mountains and the smallness of the state turns a holiday in San Marino into a fairy tale adventure.
Once upon a time, before the Italian unification 151 years ago, the Italian peninsula consisted of numerous independent states. The last one standing is the Republic of San Marino. A few mountain tops with a total area of 61 km2 – the size of Manhattan – in the backland 15 km from the bustling beaches on the Adriatic coast and just behind Rimini. As the oldest surviving sovereign state in the world, the 300.000 inhabitants of San Marino enjoy several privileges, such as low taxation rates and the right to design their own euros and print their own stamps.
A Fortified Hill Top
The old fortresses perched on top of the mountains and the smallness of the state turns a holiday in San Marino into fairy tale adventure. There’s an open border agreement with Italy surrounding San Marino on all sides, but you can still have your passport stamped by authorities at a passport office in the “capital” for the price of 5 euroes. And the geography and steep winding roads puts a natural limit to the number of cars.
We parked our car by the terminus station and entered the aerial tramway for a ride to the top. Hanging suspended in the air 700 metres above sea level felt like paragliding for someone like me who is not used to ski lifts. We stepped out in what seemed like a medieval castle occupied by almost tax-free shops selling souvenirs and arts and crafts. Along the perimeter outdoor cafes were serving coffee and ice creams with a magnificent view of the countryside, while embrasures indicate a less peaceful past.
Abroad within Italy
San Marino has been under attack several times since it was founded by Saint Marinus in 301, but thanks to the relative inaccessibility of the location, it has managed to maintain its independence. During the Risorgimento refugees supporting the Italian unification sought shelter in these hills, and in return Giuseppe Garibaldi granted San Marino the right not to be incorporated into the new Italian state.
In consequence, it is still possible go abroad within Italy and the experience the guards, Crossbowmen and flag-wavers that patrol the borders, walk processions and demonstrate crossbow shooting at festivals. And when you need a change of scene there’s plenty of beach life and big cities like Rimini, Cesena, Forli and Ravenna in the vicinity.