3 September 2016

San Marino - world's oldest sovereign state

Republic founded in 301 as Christian refuge

The extraordinary fortress of Guaita in San Marino stands at the top of one of Mount Titano's three peaks
The extraordinary fortress of Guaita in San Marino
stands at the top of one of Mount Titano's three peaks
The Most Serene Republic of San Marino, an independent state within Italy, was founded on this day in 301.

Situated on the north east side of the Apennine mountains, San Marino claims to be the oldest surviving sovereign state and constitutional republic in the world.  Of the world's 196 independent countries, it is the fifth smallest, covering an area of just 61 square kilometres or 24 square miles.

It is also the sole survivor of Italy's once all-powerful city state network, having outlasted such mighty neighbours as Genoa and Venice.  San Marino grew from a monastic community, taking its names from Saint Marinus of Alba in Croatia, a Christian who had been working as a stonemason in Rimini when he was forced to flee Roman persecution and escaped to Mount Titano, where he built a church and founded both the city and state of San Marino.

A constitution was written in the 16th century and its status as an independent state was accepted by the papacy in 1631.

San Marino managed to survive the advance of Napoleon's armies in the late 18th century and then had its wish for continued independence honoured during the Italian unification process after offering refuge to persecuted supporters of Giuseppe Garibaldi.  It remained neutral during the First World War and although it spent the interwar years in the control of the Sammarinese Fascist Party, it was able to preserve its independence during the Second World War.

From 1945, it was home to the world's first democratically elected Communist goverment, which survived for 12 years. It is now a multi-party democracy in which the two biggest groupings are the Christian Democrats and the Party of Socialists and Democrats.

San Marino's own Statue of Liberty in front of the Palazzo Pubblico
San Marino's own Statue of Liberty in front
of the Palazzo Pubblico
Although not a member of the European Union, San Marino is allowed to use the euro as currency, and has its own postage stamps. The republic’s football team compete in the World Cup.  Yet despite its independence, there are no border controls with Italy.

Tourism is a significant part of the San Marino economy, with two million visitors a year.  Its capital is the City of San Marino and its largest city is Dogana.   Most of the attractions are in San Marino city, including the Three Towers, the Cathedral of San Marino and the medieval Palazzo Pubblico.

Every year, a festival is held on September 3 to celebrate the founding of the republic in 301.

Travel tip:

The Palazzo Pubblico is the town hall of the City of San Marino as well as its official government building. The overall design, featuring battlements and corbels, is similar to the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, but on a much smaller scale.

The Cesta tops Monte Titano's highest peak
The Cesta tops Monte Titano's highest peak
Travel tip:

The Three Towers of San Marino are a group of towers located on the three peaks of Monte Titano. The Guaita is the oldest of the three towers, and the most famous, constructed in the 11th century, and served briefly as a prison, the Cesta is located on the highest of Monte Titano's summits and includes a museum to honour Saint Marinus. The Montale, the only one of the three not open to the public, was built in the 14th century and was also once used as a prison.

More reading:

Little Tony - the Elvis of San Marino

(Photo of Guaita by Max_Ryzanov CC BY-SA 3.0)
(Photo of Cesta by Radomil CC BY-SA 3.0)


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