San Marino – or the Serenissima Repubblica di San Marino – is a city state located on Mount Titano, surrounded by Italy, and one of the worldʼs oldest democratic republics.
The historic centre contains an abundance of historic buildings ranging from the time of the establishment of a constitutional republic in the 13th century and onwards through the Renaissance to the 18th and 19th centuries. The location on a mountain top in the Appenines provides an otherworldly aspect to a visit but do not worry, you will also find all the modern amenities a tourist could wish for.
Visiting San Marino was a special experience for me. Despite its easy access from nearby Rimini on the Italian coast, for example, I could not help but feel transported to another time and place. Nowadays you get to travel to the mountain top by bus or car, of course, and you donʼt even need to show your passport to enter the country, but still I felt oddly removed. In a good way, mind you.
Considering the amount of historic buildings in the centre of San Marino, I wouldnʼt have been surprised to find I had somehow been time-warped into an earlier age. I am not sure what exactly I had expected, but I loved San Marino straight away. I spent hours exploring and I literally did not find a single corner I did not like. Walking along the old city wall with its defensive towers, I basically expected to run into armoured knights. Other areas wouldnʼt feel out of place as locations for movies about the Renaissance.
The Palazzo Publico, San Marinoʼs seat of Government, was built in the 19th century, but blends nicely into the historic setting. One aspect that many, many other European cities should take to heart is the approach to conservation that has been practised here – and which is one of the reasons that San Marino was granted World Heritage status:
“Many elements of the historic centre have been preserved or, if renewed, form part of a long tradition. The interventions carried out during the 20th century could be seen as affecting the integrity, but are also a part of the history of the property. There is a high degree of authenticity of the location and setting of the city of San Marino.”
What I absolutely loved and what I wish many more cities would implement: The historic centre in San Marino is car-free.
From a political point of view, the 13th century is usually cited as the time when a constitutional republic was established. This was when power was granted to the elected (!) Grand and General Council, as opposed to the previous rule through the Arengo, which was comprised of the heads of prominent families. The Grand and General Council nominated two premier consuls in the year 1243 and ever since, two consuls have been elected by the Council every six months.
San Marinoʼs origins date back much further, though, to the year 301 AD. Some sources also cite the founding of San Marino in 4th century as the establishment of a republic, but as far as I could find out, the 13th century is the more widely accepted date for its origins of a constitutional republic. San Marino also holds another record, namely for being the state with the oldest remaining written constitution still in effect; it dates from 1600.
“San Marino and Mount Titano are an exceptional testimony of the establishment of a representative democracy based on civic autonomy and self-governance, with a unique, uninterrupted continuity as the capital of an independent republic since the 13th century. San Marino is an exceptional testimony to a living cultural tradition that has persisted over the last seven hundred years.”
So you see, San Marino has a long and rich history. Despite being a so-called micro state, its history and modern continuation of the republicʼs values and heritage are of universal example and importance.
Unfortunately, it was raining a lot when I was visiting, and I didnʼt get to take as many photos as I would have liked. Hopefully the few photos help provide a glimpse of why I liked San Marino so much.