Totally surrounded by Italy, San Marino is the oldest surviving sovereign state and constitutional republic in the world, having been founded in 301 AD. It is just over 61 sq km in size, which makes it also the world’s smallest republic and the third smallest country in Europe, with a population of about 30,000. In fact it has more vehicles than people! When our Celebrity Silhouette cruise shore excursions included a tour there from the port of Ravenna, I jumped at the chance to visit.
The Republic of San Marino is a mountainous area with the capital San Marino city on the top of the highest mountain, Mt Titano. The city is a walled medieval city with three towers (two of which are open to the public), which feature on the republic’s coat of arms and flag. It overlooks the smaller towns, or Castelli, and across to Italy, from a height of 657 metres above sea level.
The city itself is quite manageable on foot, since you have to leave your car outside the walls, though the streets and alley ways are steep and winding in places. There are many shops and restaurants to cater to the tourists, who contribute largely to the economy, due in part to it being a tax free zone.
The food is virtually Italian and the currency is the euro, despite San Marino not actually being part of the European Union. No passports are required, but if you wish you can have yours stamped for a small fee at the post office. San Marino is also well known for its colourful stamps and rare coins, as well as its ceramics, reproduction weaponry and model racing cars.
We had a guide who issued us with earphones and battery packs so we could hear her spiel from quite a distance if we lingered browsing in shop windows. She explained the history of the republic as we moved past various points of interest, such as the Palazzo Pubblico (Parliament Building) overlooking the Piazza della Liberta, the Basilica di San Marino, which houses the saint’s remains and the 14th century Chiesa di San Francisco.
We also had free time for shopping and to sample the local pasta in one of the restaurants.
One of the most photographed places is the imposing Guaita Fortress which was built in the 11th century.
There are several military groups in the republic which maintain their historical links in their uniforms and traditions. The oldest of these are the Crossbowmen who participate each year in the numerous contests and exhibitions, both in San Marino and abroad. Events take place in the Cava dei Balestrieri and include flag-wavers, musicians, master crossbow makers, standard bearers and locals in period costume as lords and ladies. The other well-recognised group are the Guardians of the Rock, who are identifiable by the bright green color of their uniforms and who perform a changing of the guard ceremony in the Piazza della Liberta every hour on the half hour during the summer months.
The tour concluded with a visit to the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe, outside Ravenna, Italy, on the way back to port.