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San Marino is a tiny spectacle. Find out why

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Uday K Chakraborty is spellbound with the world’s smallest republic and its many attractions

While not many Indians know about San Marino, many international travelers are keen to discover the spectacular beauty and quaint charm of San Marino. This oldest and smallest republic in the world lies 18 km from the Adriatic coast of north central Italy. With a population less than 32,000 and an area of 61 sq.km, San Marino is bordered on all sides by Italy.

Interesting past


As you travel southwest toward the republic from the coastal town of Rimini, the dominant feature of San Marino dramatically comes into view; Mount Titanus, at a height of 2475 feet, with three towering peaks. The mountain and surrounding hills are the territory of San Marino, its towns consisting of the capital of the same name and eight smaller villages or “castles”, as they are locally called.

San Marino was established more than 1750 years back by a Christian stonecutter named Marinus, who fled the religious persecution of the Roman emperor. Since then it supported the concept of freedom, maintained political neutrality and extended protection to refugees from all over the world.

A spectacular view of a San Marino beach

San Marino is accessible by road as well as by helicopter from Rimini. The border is marked by a banner proclaiming, in Italian,  a ”Welcome to the Ancient Land of the Liberty,” A passport or Visa is not needed to enter, and there is no customs control, despite a customs station.

Medieval towns

Within minutes from the border we are in Serravalle, the most populated suburb. Here we see signs of industrial growth alongside one of the country’s oldest and best-kept castles. Since the bestowal of Serravalle to San Marino in 1463, the republic’s territory has not been increased by a single inch. Not even Napoleon’s offer to extend its borders in 1797 was accepted.

A little further Borgo Maggiore is a market town established in 12th century. Its medieval Piazza (Squares) and general appearance remain practically unchanged with time. From here one can reach San Marino town by foot along the short cut called the Costa, by car or by via a dramatic cable lift ride.

The city of San Marino, on top of Mt. Titanus, offers vast panorama, overlooking the Apennines to the south, expansive plains and hills to the north, and the brilliant blue Adriatic to the east. On a clear day you can catch a glimpse of the Croatian coast, 260 kilometers away. Inside the city are interesting historical sites and colourful remnants of the republic’s long past.

Scenic San Marino

We enter the city of San Marino through St. Francis Gate, and immediately face the convent and church of San Francis, which is oldest and most artistic in the country.  San Marino can be toured most enjoyably by foot. The view from the peaks is well worth the walk. On the way one can cover Valloni Palace and various museums. Continuing further is Piazza della Liberta, a large elegant square. We stroll over to the Gothic-style Government Palace dominating the square. We are on time to watch the changing of the guards.

From here we are only short distance from the mountain shelf and a spectacular view. Continue on Via Belluci to a small, nameless street that leads us along a charming path to the Basilica of San Marino. Built in neoclassic style, the basilica houses commemorations of several significant historical figures, including the founding saint Marinus whose mortal remains are buried under the alter.

Peak views

We proceed further towards the magnificent tri-peak area of the town. From Basilica, walking up through the oldest quarter of the town we reach the first of the three castles, or ‘feathers” as they are poetically called. The caste known as Rocca or Guaita, dates back to the eleventh century. The caves below house a prison still in use today.

Rocca is joined by a watch path to the second castle, the Fretta or Cesta, on the highest point of Mt. Titanus. The fifth-century pentagonal tower houses the San Marino Museum of Firearms. Continue along the path through the violets and sea breezes to the third tower, the Montale. This narrow, graceful structure goes back to the twelfth century. Inside is another prison, 25 feet deep under the ground! However, all three towers offer splendid views of the surroundings.

One can see San Marino at its traditional best during its colourful holidays. On the first of each April and October, the ornate ceremony of investiture of the newly elevated captain regent is held. Each year, on September 3, in celebration of Saint’s Day and the founding of the republic, the crossbow competition is held, complete with renaissance period costumes.

Crossbow competitor in Renaissance dress

Surrounding attractions

San Marino beach is spectacularly beautiful with conjunction of hill wall, sandy beach and sculpted Karst hillocks in the water. Nearby Pennarossa Castle is now a theme park and family leisure area. If you are interested in living example of a medieval world, walk among the tiny lanes and simple houses of Montegiardino, another of San Marino’s eight villages. The remaining “castles” are smaller hamlets vividly testifying to San Marino’s ancient and rural history.