San Marino

Guaita Fortress, 11th century defensive fortification

San Marino is a juxtaposition of the old and the new; the historic and the garish. Entering the walled city, one encounters narrow cobbled streets with old stone buildings lining each side. Most of the buildings have been converted into shops or restaurants which often spill out onto the streets.

Souvenirs enjoy most of the shelf space, but electronics and optics have a prominent place as well. It's easy to see that tourism makes up more than 50% of the income of the tiny state. The throngs of tourists crowding the streets make it easy to believe that more than three million visitors come to San Marino each year.

The streets climb from the city gate up past shops, churches, and government buildings up to the peak of Mount Titano where the three ancient tower fortresses stand guard over the city. At an altitude of 750 meters (about 2600 feet), these eagles nests provide outstanding views over the surrounding countryside.

View from the Rocca Guaita

The country was supposedly founded in 301 A.D. by the Christian stonemason Marinus, but the oldest structures remaining in San Marino date from the 10th and 11th centuries. Among these are the three defensive fortresses or towers. One first arrives at the Rocca Guaita or Gauita Fortress. It is also called the "First Tower" because it was the first of the three fortresses built to protect the city. It dates from the 11th century. A short distance away, the "Second Tower" or Rocca Cesta was built in the 13th century. It is located at the peak of Mount Titano and houses a museum of 11th to 19th century arms and armor. The "Third Tower" or Montale is located a bit further away down a path along the top of the ridge.

San Marino is the capital of the postage-stamp sized Republic of the same name. (The whole country is less than a third the size of Washington D.C.) It is home to 4,500 of the country's 28,300 citizens. As a soverign country, San Marino mints its own money and prints its own stamps. In fact, for years the bulk of the country's income came from sales of currency and stamps. (But there is no need to change money at the border as the Euro is the actual currency in common use.)

The seat of government is the Government palace (Palazzo Pubblico) on Piazza della Liberta (Liberty Plaza). The guards there make a colorful sight with their brilliant green jackets and red trousers. You can see the ceremonial changing of the guard every hour on the half-hour.

Guard at the Palazzo Pubblico

San Marino is most easily reached by car on the S72 from Rimini, Italy. It is a short 22 kilometer (13 mile) drive through beautiful countryside. If you are traveling by train, busses are available from the train station in Rimini.

Park in one of the car parks and walk or take a shuttle bus. For more a scenic approach to the old town, take the cable car from Borgo Maggiore, the modern city just a couple of miles lower on the mountain.


Copyright 2003 Harry B. Rowe