Democratic San Marino

Part of our small states series of stories

It’s “capital city” located on a hilltop, San Marino is a most unlikely little country.


Because unlike the Vatican (here), its founding came from a now venerated saint nearly 1800 years ago. Well before the rise of the Papal states. And it is a unique one too. Its political system is that of a republic with two co-regents ruling after elections with multiple parties vying for power. But it was not always this way. Originally ruled as a council of the great families (read the wealthy), it evolved into a democratic system in the 13th century!Flag of San Marino

Our visit however brief, marked us as having crossed into yet another European country.

Yes, it is tiny. At just over 61km² the republic is landlocked. But it appears to punch well above its size in the sense that it has its own design of Euro coins – a much favored collectible since there aren’t many of them. But then they are not part of the EU! Such is that Italians coming into the country can buy duty free items and return home just around the corner.

Such are the oddities of arrangements in Europe.

More San Marino 3
Narrow the cobbled streets are

Since the little country subsists on finance and surprisingly electronics and ceramics. But tourism also looms large and most tourists (like us) are drawn to its capital city of the same name. Most if not all of the attractions that one can list from the internet about the country is located there. Although called Sammarinese, the folks here are of Italian stock and speak the same. Thus, do not expect to find anything but.

Our visit was by way of a walk up the winding cobbled streets which grinds its way to the top – culminating in the stone fortress called the Guaita – built in the 11th century. A world heritage site since 2008, it overlooks not just the city but well beyond. On a clear day such as we had, we could see all the way to the coast of Rimini. Surprisingly large, we spent the better part of over an hour walking its walls and peaks (three of them) and they feature on the country’s flag.

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As one walks back down the winding cobbled streets, there is a plethora of little trattorias and cafes that beckon to you. And we chose a tiny little trattoria in a little side street to have lunch, away from the crowds. It was a wonderful day to which we still recall to this day.

It is amazing how a small state can stand up to larger ones and maintain its independence. Though in this case there are conventions with Italy that in some ways would be restrictive from the point of view of a truly independent nation. In a world where might of often (and most cases) still right, it is such a celebration to be in an oasis of freedom.

This journey took place in July 2001

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