While in the Marche, you may want to pop into one of the world’s smallest countries – the only medieval Italian comune that managed after all these centuries to maintain its independence. The 33,300 Sammarinese once made a living from agriculture and peddling postage stamps to collectors.
Now, with their medieval streets crowded with day-trippers from the beaches, the Sammarinese have been unable to resist the temptation to order some bright medieval costumes and open souvenir stands and ‘duty-free’ shops. Today they have one of the highest average incomes in Europe, and the men have the highest life expectancy in the world. They must be doing something right.
A potted history of the world’s smallest and oldest republic
According to legend, San Marino was founded on the easily defensible slopes of Monte Titano by a Christian stonecutter named Marinus, fleeing from the persecutions of Diocletian in AD 310. ‘Overlooked’ by history, as the Sammarinese charmingly put it, the little community had the peace to evolve its medieval democratic institutions; its constitution dates from 1243 when the first pair of ‘consuls’ was elected by a popular assembly. The consuls are now called Captains Regent, but little else has changed. Twice, in 1503 and 1739, the Republic was invaded by papal forces, and independence was preserved only by good luck and nearly always choosing the winning side.
Napoleon, passing through in 1797, found San Marino amusing, and half- seriously offered to enlarge its boundaries, a proposal that was politely declined. It felt secure enough to shelter Garibaldi, his wife Anita and 1,500 of his followers, fleeing Rome after the fall of the republic of 1849, with an Austrian army in pursuit. When the Austrians surrounded San Marino, demanding their expulsion, Garibaldi dissolved his army in the night and made a run for the coast.
Since then, the republic has been an island of peace, taking in hundreds of refugees in World War II. In 2008 the historic centre was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site as ‘an exceptional testimony of the establishment of a representative democracy based on civic autonomy and self-governance, with a unique, uninterrupted continuity as the capital of an independent republic since the 13th century’. It last made the headlines in 2019, when it reached the Eurovision semi-finals with a dentist named Serhat singing ‘Say Na Na Na’.
Getting to San Marino
There are no public transport links from the Marche. You’ll need to take a train north to Rimini and catch a frequent Bonelli/Benedetti bus from Rimini train station.