Ambassadors to Another Country: San Marino

Author: , May 9th, 2012

San Marino View

San Marino RoccaAfter San Leo, we departed for the neighboring city-state of San Marino. San Marino has an interesting history – it’s the oldest ongoing republic in Europe, dating back to the third century AD.

Two hundred years ago, Italy as we know it now didn’t exist – instead, there were a number of city-states, some independent, most controlled by Austria, Spain and France.

San Marino CastleIn the 1800’s, several heroes of the republic, including Garabaldi, Vittore, and Cavali, fought a war for the liberation and unification of Italy, eventually creating the country as we know it now. The country was unified via a series of battles, diplomacy, and finally public votes, and San Marino alone elected to stay independent. And so it exists today – a separate country entirely surrounded by Italy.

But relations between the two countries are very friendly, and you don’t need your passport to visit this tiny, beautiful Paese (country). In fact, it’s hard to tell exactly where Italy ends and San Marino begins!

Fabio's artLike neighboring San Leo, which was founded by a brother of the man who founded San Marino, this city-state exists in three parts – the valley, the hill, and the three towers that crown it.

We arrived from San Leo in time for lunch at the home of two friends of Marco and Fabry, Lisa and Fabio – Fabio is an artist who paints and sculpts wood, and his work is really good.

Nido del RondeLisa is an artist in the kitchen. She prepared us a delicious (if very large) meal, starting with homemade bread, prosciutto, and three kinds of cheese, followed by an absolutely delicious ravioli with cheese, spinach, and just a hint of lemon.

Then there was a pasta dish I’d never seen before – Il Nido del Rondine (pictured at right) – literally “the nest of the swallow”, named for the distinctive shape of the pasta.

This, in turn, was followed by a salad, and after this, strawberries and four kinds of gelato – truly a feast! Lisa and Fabio are consumate hosts, and we discovered we had several things in common, including an interest in yoga.

Funiva di San MarinoAfter lunch, the six of us made our way to San Marino’s storico centro (historic center) – reached via una funiva (funicular or lift) that carries you up from the valley floor. You can also drive, but parking is difficult, and this way is more fun.

When you arrive on the platform at the top, the valley is spread out below you, but the views are even better from the towers.

San Marino Street SceneThe city streets are very cute, winding up the hill with little twists and turns. The shops are mostly tourist traps selling the usual fare – shirts, purses and knick-knacks.

As you first enter the town, there’s a haunting statue of a woman in great distress with a child next to her, commemorating the bombardment of the country in World War Two.

A little farther on, you’ll find Freedom Square, celebrating the liberation of the city, complete with their own statue of liberty (no,she doesn’t look like ours) – but Fabio did brag that she was much larger than ours (I didn’t try to correct him).

Facing the square is the tall, skinny house of the San Marino Parliament, where the business of government is accomplished for this beautiful little country.

San Marino with FriendsFrom here, we climbed up to another piazza with a grand columned building and a rather plain church (even Fabio thought so), and from here up to the first “rocca” (fortress).

There are three castles here, all in a row along the top of the hill, and two of these are open to the public for a fee.

San Marino CastleUnfortunately, the governments here have no money left to maintain such treasures, so the entrance fees have gone up to help cover the costs. We were lucky – our friends, as native San Marinians, have free access to the castles for themselves and their friends

San Marino CastleYou can get some beautiful shots here of one castle from the other, and of the valley laid out below you.

The first castle has a number of rooms, walks, and even a tower to explore. The tower is reached via a steep ladder through a tiny hole, complete with trap-door, and only those sure-of-foot should attempt it, but you’ll be rewarded with the best view in San Marino, with the main keep of the castle and the old town below.

San Marino ViewThe Italians (and San Marinians) have been so friendly to us, even the strangers, and I was so excited to use a bit of Italian with a few of them here. Two women wanted to pass me on a narrow walkway, and so I stepped aside and said “Mi scusi” (formal Italian for “excuse me”, and a minute later, when it was my turn to pass, I said “tocca a me” (literally “it turns to me”, figuratively “my turn”). Our Italian class friends (especially you, Giovani) will appreciate this. 🙂

San Marino ViewFrom the first rocca, we descended along a short saddle between two peaks of the hill, and then climbed to the other.

San Marino CastleThis one is smaller, but features a large museum, that unfortunately was uncomfortably warm. We passed through it quickly, and enjoyed the views from here to the other rocca in the fresh outside air. We could also see the third tower from here, but it’s not open to the public.

As we descended from the second rocca, the skies finally opened up, and we rushed back down through the town through the rain to the funicular.

It was a long, tiring, but rewarding day of exploration – and time for dinner “con la famiglia di Fabry”.