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The Republic of San Marino

Brief History of the Republic of San Marino

Garibaldi found refuge in San Marino in 1849Even on a less than clear day you can see Mount Titano – the mountain on which the Republic of San Marino is built – from Rimini, dominating the hinterland. Mount Titano has been inhabited since pre-historic times, though the official date for the foundation of the Republic of San Marino is September 301 A.D.

Tradition has it that two christian missionaries from the dalmation island of Arb, Marinus and Leo, headed inland from the coast around this time and founded churches on the neighbouring mountains that would later become San Marino and San Leo.

Marinus was apparently fleeing persecution – the Emporor Diocletian had started a particularly vicious wave of persecution in 303. Marinus is a mysterious figure, credited with being the Bishop of Rimini, until he was accused by a woman – described as deranged – of being her husband. Mt Titano proved the perfect refuge away from these worldly woes. The Republic of San Marino has, ever since, become synonymous with independence and refuge, whether it be granted to political leaders like Garibaldi, who famously holed up here, or more contentiously to fiscal capital fleeing restrictions in neighbouring Italy. San Marino considers itself Europe’s oldest still-functioning Republic, and forms part of Europe’s Microstates (along with the Vatican, Monaco, Malta, Lichtenstein, and Andora). A more concrete claim can be made, that the state has the oldest written constitution still in effect – the constitution of San Marino dates back to 1600.

San Marino - the world's oldest republic

In reality San Marino’s viability as a republic came in the late 1400’s, when most of the Italian city states were warring with one-another. San Marino perched between the lands of the Riminese Malatesta family, and the Montefeltro family of Urbino (in the Marche region), was caught up in the huge struggle between the two warring families. They sided, luckily, with Federico Montefeltro – and by extension, Pope Pius II – against Sigismondo Malatesta. After Sigismondo’s defeat, San Marino was awarded neighbouring lands of Serravalle, Fiorentino, and Montegiardino from the pope. The republic is a mere 61m2, but big enough and isolated enough to survive through centuries of warfare as invaders passed through neighbouring Italy.

Napoleon chose not to bother with the Republic, when he invaded Emilia Romagna – apparently responding, when asked why he didn’t take it over: “Why, it’s a model Republic’.

Garibaldi paid back the republic’s hospitality (they sheltered him when, in 1849 he fled the combined troops of the Austrian, French, Spanish and Neopolitan armies) by respecting its wishes to remain independent from the newly unified Italy in the 1870s.

The first friendship treaty between Italy and San Marino was signed in 1862, and renewed during the fascist period in 1931. It has been subject to some amendments since, but remains in place, and relations between the countries remains good.

In the twentieth century San Marino’s political developments have largely echoed those of the neighbouring Italian state, with a fascist government during the war years, followed by a socialist/communist government (that ws hounded out of power in a bloodless revolution, supported by the Italians), and a period of centrist domination by the San Marinese version of Democrazio Cristiana. During world war II the country remained neutral, but was bombed by the allies for strategic purposes. The state took in over 100,000 refugees during the war.

Where to stay in San Marino?

You’ve plenty of choices in San Marino – here’s our full list of hotels, b&b’s and agriturismi.
Of course you can broaden that search to include Rimini itself, if you’re willing to travel the 40 minutes or so between the two.

Some options for staying in San Marino itself:

4star: try the Grand Hotel Primavera , with free wi-fi, spa centre and meeting rooms, located about 3.5km from the centre of San Marino (just remember, though, that distance in San Marino inevitably also means a climb!).
3star: try the Hotel Rosa, situated 200 metres from the Guaita tower, with great views, free wi-fi and parking.
B&B : Try Chez Nous with free wi-fi, shared garden, and cookery courses available.

Things to do and see in San Marino

  • Celebrate the national feast day with a crossbow display

    September 3rd is a national feast day, and you can catch various displays (including crossbow archery) reminding one of the Republic’s medieval past

  • Tour the three towers

    Visible from kilometres away, the three towers of San Marino’s walled defence are an eye-catching symbol of the city, and well worth a vist – The hightest tower Rocca or Guaita was built in the 11th century. A path connects the towers, passing through some spectacular and hair raising scenery (in particular the Passo delle Streghe or Witches Pass).

  • Maranello Rosso collection

    This vintage car museum was set up by Fabrizio Violati, a former motorbike, motor car, and yachting champion, and holds 25 ferraris (dating from the 1950s to the present), along with a collection of vintage Arbath sports cars.

  • The Etno Festival

    Each summer San Marino hosts the ‘etnofestival’, a six night long festival of international music, that grows in prominence every year.

  • Medieval Days

    Every July this picture-postcard-perfect medieval republic hosts a festival re-enacting medieval customs and traditions. No better place to sample a bit of history.

  • Cable Car

    Take the cable car up from Borgo Maggiore up to San Marino city. The republic has nine different neighbourhoods or casteli, and Borgo Maggiore is the biggest – with most of the commercial and economic activities going on here.

  • The MotoGP

    The San Marino Riviera di Rimini Moto GP is one of San Marino’s main events, even though it’s actually held in Misano near Rimini. The mountain Republic, though, is one of the most motor-sport crazy places on earth so it seems fair enough that they should have their own shared Moto GP (particularly since the Formula One San Marino Grand Prix was taken away from them.

  • Shop

    San Marino isn’t a completely tax-free shoppping paradise but many of the shops do have reductions on taxes for purchase made by tourists (not Italian residents). It does though have a huge selection of shopping within its borders, including a number of hi-tech superstores. The currency is Euro, and prices tend to be good.

Trivia about San Marino

  1. San Marino had the world’s first democratcally elected communist government, elected in 1945.
  2. The Mountainous state attracts over 3 million tourists every year – tourism makes up over 50% of the state’s GDP
  3. The fastest goal scored in world cup competition was scored by San Marino (David Gualtieri scored in 8.3 seconds against England in 1993)

News and Events for San Marino