One of the reasons we stayed in Ravenna longer than necessary was so we could make a day trip to the tiny European microstate of San Marino. This tax-free republic located on the slopes of Mount Titano is surrounded on all sides by Italy. It is the smallest independent state in Europe, after Vatican City and Monaco. The land area covers just over 61 square km and has a population of around 34,000
San Marino is said to be the world’s oldest surviving republic, tracing its origin to the early 4th century when a stonemason named Marinus and a group of Christians settled there to escape the religious persecution of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. By the 12th century, San Marino had developed into a commune, remaining independent largely because of its isolation and its mountain fortresses. Today tourism and banking dominate the economy of the republic, which hosts more than three million visitors every year.
There are three medieval fortresses, connected by walkways, located on the three peaks of Monte Titano that overlook the city of San Marino. They are depicted on both the flag of San Marino and its coat of arms. The three towers are Guaita, the oldest of the three, constructed in the eleventh century; Cesta constructed in the thirteenth century and located on the highest summit, and Montale constructed in the fourteenth century on the smallest of the summits and still privately owned. This website has a brief history of all three towers. The only tower open during our visit was Guaita and entrance tickets cost 6 Euros (USD $6.30) each, this also gave us access to one more site of our choice. Guaita is the most famous of the three towers, serving briefly as a prison it was rebuilt numerous times reaching its current form in the fifteenth century. We thoroughly enjoyed exploring the fortress and climbing up to the highest point in the tower. The views down the sheer cliffs are dizzying, this is not a place for anyone with a fear of heights. You can get into the roof of this tower but there’s a steep step-ladder and a small trap door, we saw more than one person refuse to climb up here. Even I had some second thoughts walking along the crumbling balcony surrounding the tower 😬 Lower down in the tower is a small museum containing weaponry from as early as the thirteenth century.
The neo-Gothic Palazzo Pubblico is San Marino’s official seat of government and overlooks Piazza Della Libertà. Visitors can watch a small video about the history of San Marino and visit the ornate Hall of the Council. It was interesting that we were allowed into the room where the government meets, I suppose they don’t have a lot of security concerns 🙂
The Basilica of San Marino was completed in 1836. It was built on the site of a fifth-century church which was sadly demolished to make way for it. The Neoclassical structure has a porch of eight Corinthian columns. The Basilica is the main religious building in the state and conserves the relics of the founder, Saint Marino.
San Marino’s old town is full of welcoming cafes, and boutiques selling handbags, clothes, and ceramics. Goods are tax-free and so attract tourists on the hunt for bargains. If you’re looking for a deal on Italian brands, jewelry or souvenirs this is the place to come. We enjoyed a bit of window shopping and a fabulous lunch during our visit.
Although our visit was brief, we enjoyed our day in San Marino, and the castles perched high on the peaks of Mont Titano. There is not an awful lot more to see and do in the old part of town but staying overnight would be a nice treat to enjoy the panoramic views at sunset and sunrise.
Parking is at a premium close to the historic center of town atop the mountain. While there are numerous parking lots, getting to San Marino early would be crucial in the busy tourist season. We had no problems parking in lot #7 just a few minutes’ walk from the historic center.