Most people I’ve talked to haven’t heard of San Marino. Some who have, confuse it with being part of Italy. To set the record straight, San Marino is a small but independent nation surrounded completely by Italy.
It is one of 3 “enclave nations” in the world (The other 2 are Vatican City, and Lesotho). San Marino is the 5th smallest nation in the world, but it’s most important notable fact is that it is the oldest surviving country in the world – founded in 301 AD. As many other surrounding republics collapsed throughout history and became part of modern Italy (Venice, Genoa, Pisa, Florence, Lucca, etc) San Marino somehow managed to keep its sovereignty to this day, making it older than any other nation on Earth. At 61 square kilometers in size, it’s bigger than most people realize. The tiny nation is divided into 9 municipalities and contains multiple cities! The largest of these is Dogana, however the most popular one for tourists is the medieval settlement – the Città di San Marino, which is perched high upon Monte Titano (2,460 ft / 750m).
Not to be confused with the nation of San Marino as a whole, the Città di San Marino (City of San Marino) is the capital city of the tiny nation, and is a beautiful one at that!
We planned to visit San Marino for a couple different reasons – to see it as tourists like most people who visit do, and to visit family! Charity’s cousin is married to a native Sammarinese and currently resides in San Marino, so exploring the country with family made the venture that much more enjoyable!
After meeting Charity’s cousin and her husband at their home, we then drove to the entrance of the medieval city, and started our climb! With the city literally sitting on the top of a mountain, the only way to go is up – so if you plan to visit, remember to pack comfortable shoes and get ready to burn some calories!
Walking up the streets of the città reminded me of the fictional nation of “Genovia” which is portrayed in the film series The Princess Diaries staring Anne Hathaway. Besides the very charming streets lined with small shops was a strong “small nation government” presence with officers in uniform that looked like they came straight out of this movie series. Complete with the hat, gloves, and uniform – they completely fit the bill. While I didn’t have time to snatch a picture of the fantastical policeman, I was able to sneak a shot of some of the military guardsmen who were preparing for the arrival of the small nation’s top government officials into the Palazzo Pubblico – the equivalent to the “White House of San Marino”.
We reached the top of the city and the fortress that overlooks the città and the country. The Castello della Guiata is a medieval fortress and the oldest of three towers constructed at the top of Monte Titano. For a small admission charge, you can get full access to the tower and climb all the way up to the top! This was adventurous and a lot of fun, because to reach the top chamber of the lookout tower you must climb up a steep ladder which opens into a hatch in the floor in the upper level! The clearance in the hole is very small, so remember to hold your breath!
Castello della Guiata
Hole with ladder to come up into the tower’s upper levels
Down the hole!
Having fun at top!
View South with Cesta Tower in distance
Once on top, you have an amazing view of San Marino and surrounding Italy from all sides. On a clear day, you can easily see the Adriatic Sea and the Italian city of Rimini on the coast. Our day wasn’t too clear, but you could barely make them out. I did my best with a picture below.
The 2nd tower is called Cesta (aka De La Fratta) and is the highest of Monte Titano’s summits. This tower features a museum which honors “Saint Marinus” – whom the country is named for, and showcases over 1,550 various weapons dating back to medieval times. If you enjoy seeing authentic medieval swords, armor, and firearms, this is the place for you! It showcases more medieval weaponry than I’ve ever seen in one place. The outside was also really cool looking with some old cannons the boys loved!
The 3rd tower is called Montale, and it’s the smallest of the three, and not open to the public.
Besides the towers, the città has many neat little shops to explore, and has some interesting museums as well. These include a museum of Torture, and a museum of Vampires! While we didn’t see these, I would love to go back someday and check them out! They looked really interesting! The city also had many scooters driving around. While most of Europe does, some of these were so cute, my son wanted one!
One of my favorite things about the Città di San Marino was that it wasn’t overly crowded. There were tourists, but it wasn’t like some other destinations we visited where there were so many people that it makes it difficult to enjoy yourself. San Marino had just the right amount.
There are many other fun activities to see and do packed into this tiny country that we didn’t get a chance to enjoy, but I’ll note some of them here for those interested.
There is an aerial cable car that connects Borgo Maggiore to the historical centre. See photo below. San Marino Adventures is a large adventure-style theme park that includes all kinds of excitement. This includes zip-lining, Tibetan suspension bridges, tunnels, hiking trails, and more. It is the largest in all of Italy and San Marino.
As we have family in San Marino, we plan to return again in the future, however even if we didn’t have family there, this is a country I would definitely visit again, and one I highly recommend! If you enjoyed reading this, please drop me a comment below to let me know. Thank you!
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