Before the nation of Italy was unified in the 19th century, some of the city-states that make up the current fabric of Italy, used to have the official title of ‘Most serene republic’. Like, the Most Serene Republic of Venice, Most Serene Republic of Genoa, and Most Serene Republic of Lucca. Since the unification of Italy, they all discarded the title. But one modern independent state still continues to use this title, albeit informally.
Serenissima Repubblica di San Marino. The Most Serene Republic of San Marino. And you know the nomenclature is quite apt, when you consider the fact that San Marino is the only country which has more people than vehicles.
A misty day at San Marino
After making my way through Rome to Rimini, and further to San Marino city, I was at the gates of the walled city. The time was only 10.30 AM in the morning, and I had until 7.15 PM to explore the city – which was when the last bus returned to Rimini. Almost 8 hours to figure out how a capital city with a population of only 4000 people is able to attract more than 3 million tourists per year. But arriving so early in the morning, meant that I would have an unexpected partner in my initial hours at San Marino.
Mist. Thick heavy columns of mist. Despite the fact that the entire San Marino Citta was surrounded by a wall, the thick mist seemed to add a second layer of security around it.
Further Reading: Looking for more offbeat things to do when in Italy? Visit an Osteria, and try some authentic Italian food!
Once inside the giant walls of San Marino, the pattern of the small roads were similar. They were all made of cobblestone, but neatly pressed down so that it didn’t hurt my feet. And secondly, they were either going up, or going down. San Marino was divided into 12 levels based on elevation, and I had lost track of which level of San Marino I was currently on. And some times, I even lost of track of where exactly I was, with the amount of curves, steps, steep slopes that I took. I thought it would be easy to remember my location with hallmarks like plazas and churches. Bad idea. There were so many plazas and churches inside the walled city, that I kept returning back to the same place!
Spoiled by choices in San Marino
Another thing in abundance was the museums. Apart from the museum of torture which greeted me at the entrance, there was also the Museo di state (state museum), a museum of modern weapons, a museum of ancient weapons, a museum of curiosities, a house of music, a modern art gallery, and even a vampire museum! Seriously, all of it totally explains how San Marino keeps its 3 million annual visitors busy.
Not to mention the plentiful shopping choices. There were shops selling everything from antiques to expensive designer watches. And a flurry of art-pieces decked around the city too. At one of the entrances to the gallery, I was able to spot the Grande Nudo, one of the last works of the famous 20th century sculptor Francesco Messina. And from a curious shopkeeper nearby (who couldn’t hide his curiosity at the rare sight of an Indian strolling through San Marino) I learnt that this sculpture was acquired for quite a hefty amount, during the occasion of the centenary of the country.
Money well spent, I said.
Of Libertas, Basilicas and Visas
I continued walking through the misty alleyways of the Citta. The floor had become a little slippery with the slight drizzling of the rain that was now falling, but it eventually led me towards the Plaza Della Liberta. Libertas (liberty) seemed to be an integral part of the San Marino national ethos. I had already noticed that the San Marino national flag had the word “Libertas” written on it. And near the Plaza Della Liberta, there was also a small aqueduct with the word “Libertas” written over it.
On the way up, I had to stop to admire the Basilica of St. Marino. In a place like San Marino, where there was a church at every corner, the Basilica was the religious epicenter. Dedicated to Saint Marinus – the founder of the republic – it was closed for some reason when I visited. I would have loved to take a look inside, but I was told that it was undergoing some renovation.
Souvenirs in San Marino – Not what you think.
It was time to get some souvenirs from San Marino. What could be the best souvenir to get from a country like San Marino, where shops sold everything from low-taxed cigarettes to high-end designer wear? The answer lies in the visa policy of San Marino.
San Marino is not a member of EU, and has an open border with Italy. If you had read my previous post about my trip to San Marino, you would have noticed that I did not mention anything about the passport control. Because it simply wasn’t there! Like the other small countries of Europe without an airport (think, Monaco, Andorra, Vatican City and Liechtenstein), San Marino does not have any passport control – because it is practically impossible to visit San Marino without entering Italian border control.
So, there is usually no opportunity to get an entry stamp from San Marino on the passport. But there is a curious souvenir that you can get here. Simply walk to the Tourist Information center (Ufficio Del Turismo) just 50 metres from the Plaza Della Libertas. And ask them for a visa stamp. It will cost you 5 Euros, but hey, tell me when you find a cheaper visa stamp in the EU region.
I knew there was a cable car service just a few metres ahead, which connected Piazza della Liberta to the town of Borgo Maggiore. Borgo Maggiore was the second largest town in San Marino, and the only place in San Marino with a helipad. For a nation that has no airport, this was a huge achievement!
I walked to the Funavia, only to find it covered in a shroud of mist. But to my joy, I could see that the mist was clearing a little bit at the bottom of the majestic mount Titan. And the paths were becoming more clearer. To get to the most important part of the country that I had been waiting for. One that had been immortalised not just in local legends, but even on the national insignia and flag.
The famous 3 towers. But that would have to be another post.
This post is part of my travel stories in Italy. Click here to check out other amazing stories from Italy.
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