Around 25km southwest of Rimini, the REPUBLIC OF SAN MARINO is an unashamed, though not entirely unpleasant, tourist destination that trades on its nearly two millennia of precariously maintained autonomy. Said to have been founded around 300 AD by a monk fleeing the persecutions of Diocletian – it claims to be the world’s oldest constitutional republic – it has been bumbling along ever since in a quiet, unobtrusive fashion, away from the fierce battles and intrigues of mainstream Italian politics. Essentially too small and inconsequential to be worth conquering, the republic has – save for a brief Borgia episode in the sixteenth century – been left largely to its own devices. Culturally, it is essentially Italian – there’s no San Marinese language – but in legal, constitutional terms, it remains independent, electing its own government, passing its own laws, minting its own money, producing its own postage stamps, and even maintaining its own, largely unused, army of around a thousand.

There’s not a great deal to see. The ramparts and medieval-style buildings of the citadel above Borgomaggiore, restored in the last century, are mildly interesting; there’s a waxworks museum in Via Lapicidi Marini 17 (daily: April–Sept 8.30am–6.30pm, July & Aug till 8pm; Oct–March 8.30am–12.30pm & 2–5.30pm; €6) as well as tacky souvenir shops and restaurants. And you can also get your passport stamped, for €5, by the border guards or at the information office. All the touristy tawdriness aside, however, it’s a good place just to stroll around; the walk up through town to the rocce, battlemented castles along the highest three ridges, is worth the effort for the all-round views. Below, in Borgomaggiore, is Giovanni Michelucci’s “fearless and controversial” modernist church, built in the 1960s, with a roof that seems to cascade down in waves.

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