San Marino has its own government, a seat at the United Nations, and produces its own stamps and coins. Yet this tiny country, the oldest republic in Europe, covers an area of only 61 sq km, and its borders are wholly contained within northern Italy. Tourists visit San Marino for its breathtaking hill top position, fortresses, and many quirks.
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The Last City-State In Italy
San Marino was supposedly founded at the beginning of the 4th century by Christians fleeing from persecution. The tall peak of Mount Titano proved to be a safe refuge and a small town grew up on top of the hill. The city was an early adopter of democracy, and its statutes date back at least to the 13th century, making it the oldest republic in Europe.
Mount Titano and the historic hilltown of San Marino became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. This is partly because of its continuous democracy over many centuries, and partly because it is the last remaining city-state in Italy.
The Historic City Of San Marino
The capital (also called San Marino) sits on top of the majestic Mount Titano and is crowned by imposing fortifications. It has long been a magnet for tourists, attracted by spectacular views over the Appenines and the historic hilltown.
Most tourists confine themselves to the walled town of the capital which is built high up into the rock of Mount Titano. As you climb the old streets you will encounter many churches and musuems as well as shops and restaurants.
A Place Of Curiosities
San Marino is a place of curiosities. Visitors can buy the local stamps and coins, or pay to have their passport stamped at the Tourist Office (no passport is actually required to enter the country). Or they can visit one of the quirky museums: these include a Museum of Torture and a Museum of Curiosities as well as more conventional offerings.
On the way up the hill you will also encounter a sunken crossbow pitch where the Crossbow Corps of the San Marino army still demonstrates its art during the Palio della Balestra Antica, the ancient crossbow competition that takes place every year on 3 September.
The Fortresses Of San Marino
The highlight for many visitors is the three fortresses that dominate the city’s skyline. The cable car takes you close to Guaita (also known as “the First Tower”). A small entrance charge allows you to walk around the 11th century prison and enjoy the panoramic views. A short walk leads to the Second Tower, Cesta (also known as De la Fratta), which was built in the 13th century and now houses a museum of historical weapons. There is no public access to the Third Tower, the 14th century Montale.
Walking In The Parco Naturale
If you turn left as you leave the second tower you will come onto a forest path that leads into the Parco Naturale, a pine forest at the top of the mountain. The path takes you past the less visited Third Tower and is a pleasant way of avoiding the crowds for a while. If you walk far enough you will come to a secluded picnic table and there is also the option of a number of short waymarked walks (around 20-30 minutes) through the forest.
Eating In San Marino
There are lots of places to eat in San Marino, both within and outside the walled city. These include formal restaurants and those with fixed price tourist menus, as well as cafés selling snacks and piadine (the local flat bread which is folded and wrapped around a variety of fillings). Or, if you take a picnic, you will find plenty of places to stop either in the tourist area or in the pine forest.
How To Visit San Marino
The nearest railway station is in Rimini. San Marino is an easy day trip from Rimini, with buses running several times a day (from the bus stop opposite the station, outside Burger King). If you choose to drive you may find it easier to use a car park below the town and take the lift to the top as the approach road has several steep hairpin bends. Lifts and a cable car are available to take visitors to the different levels of the hill but a certain amount of walking and climbing is necessary if you wish to see the whole of the city.
San Marino can get very crowded at peak times so it is advisable to avoid weekends and the main summer season if possible.