Friday, July 17, 2015

One Day in San Marino

Tucked quietly away in eastern Italy - about 10 miles from the Adriatic coast - is the tiny little country of San Marino. At a mere 24 square miles (about a quarter of the size of Salt Lake City), it's the fifth smallest country in the world.

The Sammarinese speak Italian and use the Italian currency (the Euro, nowadays.) In spite of their tiny size and proximity to a much larger and more powerful country, they've been an independent country for somewhere between several centuries and nearly two millennia (depending on who you ask.) They have a proud history of independence, industriousness, and torture.

Fortunately, it turns out that it's not just a country for Europe completionists - it's small, but it's a beautiful and historical place worthy of a visit for anyone visiting the region.

I made the Italian coastal city of Rimini (which, tangentially, happens to be the birthplace of one of my favorite filmmakers, Federico Fellini) my base camp for the journey into San Marino.

(Also tangentially: It was on the bus in Rimini where I encountered the nice but logorrheic Italian who talked to me nonstop - in Italian - about Italian-American films and filmmakers for a full 25 minutes. "Sapete Francis Ford Coppola è italiano? Egli è il Dio della pellicola! Il Padrino, La conversazione, Apocalypse Now! Molto bello! Bellissimo! Martin Scorsese! Robert de Niro! Bellissimo! Bellissimo! Mi piace sottaceti e cannoli! Vuoi essere mio amico? Devo pesci nuotano, volano gli uccelli devo, devo l'amore di un uomo fino alla morte." Note: I don't speak Italian.)


Since Rimini is the most popular stopover for those hoping to visit San Marino, there's a cheap bus service from the city center that offers several trips a day into the country. So I hopped on the bus, and we drove away from the coastline - and up into the beautiful Apennine Mountains. Forty-five minutes later we were in the city - and country - of San Marino.

The first thing you notice about San Marino: It's in a gorgeous setting. The capital city (and the only real city in the country) is located on the slopes of Mount Titano which rises steeply above the surrounding countryside and provides lovely views in every direction.

It also makes walking the streets a pain, since they're pretty much all on a slope - but that's the price you pay for beauty I suppose.

My first destination was the three ancient defensive towers that stand over the city. It's a bit of a hike up through the city, but the views from the tops of the fortresses were spectacular. The three towers are connected by a scenic path that runs along the top of the mountain.

After exploring the towers (only two of the three are actually open to the public), I went back into the city to visit some of the other historic sites.

For such a small country, San Marino has a pretty extensive heritage. I unfortunately wasn't there during the right time of year to witness the changing of the guard, but I was able to go inside the Public Palace and see the senate chambers and - oddly enough - a bust of Abraham Lincoln.

From there, it was on to the very modern and clean State Museum, which held a wide variety of important historical artifacts ranging from prehistory to the modern day.

And then there was the Torture Museum. I don't know why I went in there. Apparently San Marino, like most of the medieval world, liked to employ torture against its prisoners. They found inventive - and sadistic, and evil - ways of punishing/extracting information.

On a more pleasant - if bizarre - note, there was an art exhibit going on throughout the city, which included these, uh... Things...

Even with the unpleasantly steep streets, it was nice to just wander around while I waited for my bus. The architecture in the city is lovely. A particularly pleasant moment was walking by a school of music and hearing some piano music floating through the open windows. It was one of those small but memorable moments that can't be captured on camera - or in writing.

...As the sun began to set over the Apennines it was time to head back to my hotel in Rimini.


  1. And now I've added San Marino to my short list of places I need to visit! Wow!

  2. Have to admit I have never thought about traveling to San Marino. In fact I wasn't
    even sure where it was. But it looks amazing. Those sculptures are something else-
    However I kind of like them.