Visiting San Marino
From high up on the hill, looking out over the countryside and towards the ocean, you can see why the residents of San Marino have tried so hard over the centuries to keep their land – it’s a stunning view, witnessed from a beautiful city that has maintained its historic charm.
It’s hard to imagine how they managed to keep their country intact, though, considering the wars and invasions that have bloodied the lands around them.
San Marino is the oldest sovereign state in the world, having been founded in 301AD. But it’s also one of the smallest – about 60 square kilometres (or 24 square miles).
It’s this size which has helped protect the country because it’s never been seen as a true threat or as a large enough area to bother conquering. Enclosed entirely within Italy, it’s also been protected geographically from many potential aggressors.
The capital of San Marino (imaginatively called San Marino City) is high on a mountain top, surrounded by stone towers linked with bridges and reached through narrow winding roads or staircases cut through buildings.
San Marino City looks down benevolently on the rural citizens as they gaze up at the seat of government that has kept them in an idealistic republic for so long.
Oldest and smallest countries
When a country is so small it’s easy to manage the affairs and keep things in control. It means San Marino can lay claim to a number of impressive facts:
- It is the oldest surviving sovereign state in the world
- It has the world’s oldest constitution
- It has no national debt and a budget surplus
- It has the fifth highest life expectancy in the world
- It has no military forces
Officially the country is called The Most Serene Republic of San Marino. I guess it’s not too hard to be serene when you only have 30,000 citizens. I wonder whether everybody who lives there knows each other – surely it wouldn’t take too long to get to know all the neighbours.
Coming from Australia, I find it such a strange situation to be able to stand at the peak of a tower and actually see an entire country. It’s surreal but also quite an exciting thing to do from the ancient watchtowers and battlements of the historic capital. (And it’s especially fun if you pretend you are a king or a queen surveying your land.)
Tourism in San Marino
As far as tourism goes, the industry only makes up about two per cent of the national GDP – and much of that is from Italians. This is not a country on the radar of most international travellers (I’d be surprised if it comes up on any radar, it’s so small).
And therein lies much of the charm.
During the day it’s relatively busy with the bus tours coming in from nearby Italian holiday cities. By the time the sun starts to go down, the capital is almost deserted.
I was able to walk along the city’s walls almost alone as the sky turned orange. The restaurants with views out across the plains were quiet and peaceful.
The old city was mine and only mine to enjoy.