Published: June 11th 2009February 11th 2009
No visit to Italy is complete without a side trip to San Marino, or so I thought, at least. But what exactly is it with this country? Many people, especially outside Europe, wouldn't even know what to make of it when asked about San Marino. But Sanmarinese claim that many Italians don't even realize that this tiny enclave is actually independent, and not a part of Italy. The Serenissima Repubblica di San Marino occupies 61km² in the Apennine Mountains, which makes it two and a half times smaller than Liechtenstein, but three times bigger than the island group of Tuvalu. A mere 10km away is the Adriatic Coast, but the Republic is landlocked and completely surrounded by Italy. The 30,000 inhabitants take great pride in the fact that their country is the oldest sovereign state and constitutional republic in the world, having been founded by the now-Saint Marinus, a stonecutter from the isle of Rab, in present-day Croatia, who was fleeing persecution for his Christian beliefs by Emperor Diocletian. He went on to climb Monte Titano, where he built a small church, and founded the city and state of San Marino on the 3rd of September, 301, which is still celebrated
as Independence Day.
The country even has its small military, with grand names like The Crossbow Corps and The Guard of the Rock. In reality, of course, Italy's armed forces have the responsibility of defending San Marino, and its own military serves more for ceremonial duties.
My host Jenny fetched me from the train station in Rimini, which is just about 20 minutes by car from her home in Serravalle, one of the nine municipalities of the country, which were almost impossible to distinguish, merging into each other without any visible differentiation. Her home was a big room with its own entrance in a shared house, and she never locks the door, in fact, nobody does in San Marino. I wanted to give it a shot by just walking into a random house, checking the pictures on the wall, looking into the fridge, and smiling when the owners would see me, 'I was just dropping by!'.
It was already to late to visit Monte Titano that day, but I just tagged along when Jenny went to visit some friends. The first one was a woman with her small kid, a 3-year old boy, who was watching a cartoon
while she was baking bread and smoking pot. I was more up for the home-made cookies and a cup of tea. Apparently cooking and baking still had a very high status in San Marino, and it has to be with fresh organic ingredients. Everybody seems to have their small vegetable plot, and if they don't, they go and buy their produce at the local greengrocer's. We did so, and I was delighted to see that we didn't go into a real store, but into the house of a farmer, being sat down and offered coffee by his wife. They were happy to have a visitor around, and I was trying my best doing a bit of small talk in my meagre Italian. The farmer was 78 years old, but still seemed in good shape, and he delivered his recommendations for which fruits and veggies were the best which such enthusiasm that you could see how much he loves what he does, interacting with customers, who are more like friends, selling them his home-grown produce.
The next morning I went to climb 749m-high Monte Titano, which wasn't that hard to begin with, you just had to climb up the stairs,
basically. I reached the cobblestoned Historic Centre after maybe 15 minutes of less-than-intense climbing, and enjoyed the view of the Adriatic Sea and the whole country of San Marino. Actually, there wasn't so much on the hill. OK, there are a few museums, a couple of statues, the three towers on the three peaks of Monte Titano, and lots of overpriced souvenir shops and restaurants. Most of them were closed, though, seeing that it wasn't tourist season yet, plus it was still quite early in the morning, and it rained. After a couple of hours, though, it started to clear up, the sun came out, and some tourists emerged from their dark caves. There were a handful of Italian couples, three Spaniards, and even the odd Asian or two. Amazingly, it felt like an invasion, and I took it as a personal insult that they should disturb my San Marino experience with their nagging presence. Well, there wasn't so much to experience, I just wandered around, enjoyed the view, took a few shots, and went back down again.
Jenny cooked a nice dish of home-made ravioli with mushroom sauce. Every ingredient had been grown or produced in San Marino,
and I thought, this is the way it should be, why don't all countries do this?
After saying my goodbyes and making my way to Bologna to catch the plane back home, I couldn't help but feeling a bit sad to leave this microstate. The people had been amazingly friendly, the food had been just great, the landscape beautiful, and everything had worked at a relaxed pace. I thought, 'I could live there', but then I remembered how Jenny told me that when you'd actually been living there all you life, all you want is get out. When I came back home to my small village, I could understand what she'd meant.
There are more photos below