A Brief History of San Marino

  • San Marino supposedly derives its name from Saint Marinus, a stonemason from the then Roman island of Rab, in modern-day Croatia. According to local legend, Marinus had become a Deacon in Rimini, but he was accused by and was ordained by 'an insane woman' of being her estranged husband. So, he fled to Monte Titano to live the life of a hermit. He built a chapel and monastery in AD 301.
  • When, inevitably, the hermits were discovered, Felicissima, a kind lady from Rimini, who owned the land, gave it to the refugees. land. The State of San Marino evolved from there. It lays claim to being the oldest extant sovereign state in the world.
  • San Marino has expanded since those early times. but its borders have remained unchanged since the early fourteenth century. By diplomatic means it has, remarkably, managed to stay neutral and escape invasion (bar the odd short term encroachment) by various popes, cardinals and other nations. Even Napoleon was fobbed off.

Facts and Factoids

  • San Marino is surrounded by Italy (an enclave state, one of only three in the world), but is not in the European Union. It has, however, adopted the euro as its currency.
  • The landscape is mainly hilly. The country's capital city, the City of San Marino, is located atop Monte Titano (739 metres), whilst its largest settlement is Dogana, within the largest municipality of Serravalle.
  • San Marino's official language is Italian.
  • The constitution is modelled on ancient Rome. San Marino is ruled, concurrently, by two Captains Regent. who have equal powers and are elected by the Grand and General Council, every six months.
  • The country's economy is mainly based on finance, industry, services and tourism. It is one of the wealthiest countries in the world in GDP per capita.
  • The official title of San Marino is The Most Serene Republic of San Marino.
  • The people of San Marino are referred to as Sammarinese.

How to Get to San Marino?

  • There's no airport - the nearest is in Italy, at Rimini. Though if you're rich you can come by helicopter. There are helicopter tours.
  • Rimini is only six miles away, most people travel by bus from there. But beware. Read my story here.

From Albania to Visit San Marino

San Marino is another tiny white spot on my map. When we drove to Tuscany, in the 1990s, I couldn’t persuade Chris to go that little bit further. So, I’m planning a day trip to visit San Marino from Rimini. You catch a bus from the station every half hour. I hope.

However, I’m having a bad day and things are not improving. I've arrived at Rimini and San Marino airport from Albania, but there are no taxis to be seen, just a long empty stretch of tarmac with the word Taxi written on it. I track down a bus and don't even have to pay, as the driver doesn't speak English and wants to leave, while I'm scattering my belongings everywhere. He just waves me on. I'm headed for Rimini Station and a bus to San Marino, but I have no idea where the station is, so thank God for Google. I've just missed the San Marino connection, of course, and they go every 90 minutes.


I've been emailing Andy, my Travel Counsellor travel agent in England, to tell him about my tribulations. He replies that I'm like a cockroach, indestructible. I'm not sure that's a compliment. And I finally scramble on the bus, to find that someone has lifted my purse, while I was waiting. All my cash and cards. I’m now a destitute cockroach.

I can’t do much except stay on the bus and call the bank. They say Visa can send me emergency money. I spend most of the next two hours wandering around San Marino trying to talk to banks on my phone, which isn’t very easy, as the signal keeps disappearing. The Italian phone system doesn’t even recognise the so called Italian visa emergency phone number, so I’m onto the UK one, though I’m pretty sure the folk talking to me are not in the UK. I’m promised a return call in three hours and some money in a bank somewhere.

Micronavigation of San Marino

I’m rushing round, as I’m not in the mood to visit San Marino. Lonely Planet says that a day is plenty to do this micronation justice, in any case. The famous UNESCO heritage medieval settlement is perched very high up indeed, on the top of Mount Titano - a couple of castles with three towers and a little walled town. There’s a larger section down below, called Dogana, but no-one is interested in that. There are no borders, no customs, just a little sign.

There are amazing views from the top, hills sweeping away into the distance, some crenellated arches, several swanky restaurants, some narrow cobbled streets livened up with a few flags, shops that smell of new leather and a couple of churches. I can’t go in the restaurants, as I haven’t any money and I can’t go in the castles, as I haven’t any money and I can’t go in the museums because - well you got the idea. Lonely Planet also says there is a curious lack of intimacy here and they’re right. All these stone buildings are too pristine, too perfect. Though I suspect it feels even less intimate for me today. And it’s very difficult to navigate, because of the hills and steps. None of the maps seem to bear any relation to reality.

A Different Country From Italy

On the third attempt, I find a police station and file a report, with the aid of some pantomiming. The policemen are kind, but vexed that the insurance company don’t mind whether it's an Italian or a Sammarinese (as I’ve discovered they’re called)  report. ‘We are a different country’, they say. I know, that’s why ‘I’m here. They are fascinated by my passport. I think they are bored and have decided that I might at least provide some entertainment. ‘You have been to a lot of countries. You went to Iran and you didn’t get robbed there? You went to Pakistan and you didn’t get robbed there? You went to Russia and you didn’t get robbed there? But you went to Italy and you got robbed there?’ Hysterical. Good job they didn't notice Uruguay.

It’s roasting hot - 36 Celsius in the shade - and the Italians/Sammarinese  aren’t very good on sob stories. It obviously doesn’t help that I can’t speak Italian and not many of the locals understand English. There’s no consul here to ask for help. The British diplomatic service also lump San Marino and Italy together. The bus company give me 5 euros for a free ride back to Rimini (my ticket was in the purse), but not until I’ve cried all over the little man, and a café supplies water, for my bottle, on request, again after waterworks. I’ve got a cracking headache: heat, stress and dehydration. Now I have to try and work out how to get back to the bus stop.

Read more about San Marino here.

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