San Marino

August 23, 2013


On a high mountaintop surrounded by Italy sits the very old "Serene Republic of San Marino." It's claimed to be the world's oldest sovereign state and oldest constitutional republic, founded in 301 by Christians fleeing Diocletian's persecution. 

It's definitely an old independent country, but I'm not persuaded by the claimed longevity or continuity of its republican form of government.

 Guaita tower built in the 11th century

The original settlers wisely chose this high inaccessible mountain with steep cliffs.

The three biggest threats to independence were all overcome in remarkable and peaceful ways. First, they adamantly refused annexation into the Papal States. Second, they actually charmed aggressive Napoleon into endorsing their independence.

Third ― and it just doesn't get more ironic than this ― when Garibaldi's armies were consolidating the peninsula's various city-states, kingdoms, and principalities into republican (nonmonarchical) Italy, the Republic of San Marino welcomed Garibaldi and his supporters when they needed refuge. So...

in gratitude for helping him unify Italy, Garibaldi exempted San Marino from the unification of Italy!

Left: The Cesta tower built in the 13th century at the summit of Monte Titano
Right: Piazza della Libertà with a statue of liberty in front
of the Palazzo Pubblico, the main government building.
Left: Wonderfully steep streets of San Marino
Right: Changing of the guard at the Palazzo Pubblico

Of these four European microstates, charming San Marino rivals Monaco as my favorite place to visit. If you're touring Tuscany ― making the grand loop around Siena, Florence, Lucca, Pisa ― add nearby San Marino to your journey. Ideally, avoid the August crowds. If making a day trip here in the summer, arrive as early as possible in the morning before too many buses arrive.

Also see my post: Microstates of Europe.

>