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 and has been bumbling along ever since outside the fierce battles and intrigues of mainstream Italian politics. 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 and maintaining an army of around a thousand. Important sources of revenue include its coins and postage stamps, which are sought after by collectors, and it long benefited from its position as a tax haven, though this ended in 2014.
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, and there are some tacky souvenir shops and restaurants. You can also get your passport stamped, for a fee, by the border guards or at the information office. All the touristy tawdriness and weapons shops aside, however, it’s a good place just to stroll around; the walk up through town to the rocce, the battlemented castles along the highest three ridges, is worth the effort for the all-round views. Below, in Borgomaggiore, Giovanni Michelucci’s “fearless and controversial” church, built in the 1960s, has a roof that seems to cascade down in waves.
Top image: Rocca della Guaita, the most ancient fortress of San Marino, Italy © Vladimir Sazonov/Shutterstock