The Republic of San Marino is not exactly on the list of the world's top
ten tourist attractions. No 747s land there, primarily because the
construction of a suitable facility would necessitate the razing of a
sizable percentage of the entire country. Even Piper Cubs have difficulty
landing on a mountain and, for all intents and purposes, that's all San
Marino is: a mountain.
In an age of superpowers San Marino could be considered a good-natured
joke, a Tom Thumb country (60 square kilometers with a population of
17,000) where postage stamps and souvenirs form the basis of the economy
and motor bikes and cars roar past a backdrop of castles, suggesting a kind
However, San Marino offers many points of interest for the serous political
scientist and historian, as well as for the casual collector of
geographical oddities. For one thing, San Marino is the smallest and oldest
republic in the world. Situated in the heart of Italy, on Mount Titano near
the famous Italian coast resort of Rimini, the founding of this state is
credited to a Dalmatian stonecutter named Marino, in 300 A.D. A
Christian convert, Marino fled Rimini to avoid persecution from the Emperor
Diocletian. History relates that he settled down on the slopes of Mount
Titano as a hermit, content to lead a life devoted to the contemplation of
his faith and exercise of his art. However, other Christians followed,
accepting Marino as their spiritual leader and forming a community.
The story of Marino may or may not be apocryphal, but written records show
that by 85 A.D. San Marino was already a sovereign state, an established
republic with laws and a stable government. For the most part, that same
system prevails today, with some modifications brought about because of the
press of modern times.
But, with fewer inhabitants than ride a New York subway on a holiday, is
San Marino a nation? The answer is yes, at least by any reasonable criteria
that we may apply. First, San Marino is recognized as such by most other
nations of the world. Most important, its autonomy is recognized by Italy
which carries San Marino in the womb of its eastern coast. The republic
issues its own passports, and has a United States immigration quota of 150,
separate from the Italian quotas (Detroit has a large number of San
Marinese immigrants working in its automobile industry). Not to be ignored
in the diplomatic field, San Marino has signed treaties with various other
nations, including the United States, France, Great Britain and, of course,
Italy. They even have their own currency, although lire is the most
commonly used medium of exchange.
Any nation, however small, that has managed to endure for 16½
centuries must be considered a viable entity. San Marino is.
The republic has nine major population centers, but the most important of
these is the capital of the same name. This city of 1700 holds the key to
the riddle of how San Marino has been able to survive amidst the
complexities of the 20th century with all of its economic and geopolitical
rivalries. While more than half the population is engaged in agriculture,
and there are small industries, tourism is the pillar on which the economy
of the nation rests and is the major element in the life of each San
The key to San Marino's survival is the pervading medieval atmosphere of
the capital, an atmosphere the residents nurture and protect with shrewd,
pecuniary tenacity. The streets are lined with souvenir stands offering
plastic helmets, swords, and shields. For eight months of the year husbands
and wives peddle their wares, saving enough money to bide them through the
winter months when the mountain is quiet and shrouded in snow.
Other somewhat unique items available in the shops are 3 liter bottles of
cognac that sell for $2, ceramics from the nearby factories, and pastries.
For the most part, quantity is much more in evidence than quality. However,
San Marinese stamps are highly prized by philatelists, both amateur and
professional. All of the stamps (which are already carefully affixed to
every post card on sale in the country) are conceived, designed, and
executed by the government.
The ubiquitous souvenir stands and aggressive selling techniques often
leave San Marino open to charges of vulgar commercialism, of transforming
the winding, ancient cobbie-stone streets of their capital into the
equivalent of a Coney Island boardwalk. Two factors soften and mitigate
this charge: The nation needs this trade in order to survive (San Marinese
stamps and souvenirs are the equivalent of Iranian oil) and the poor
quality of the trinkets merely reflects a knowledge of the tastes of San
Marino's best customer—the tourist; as far as medieval memorabilia is
concerned, San Marino possesses plentiful amounts of the genuine article.
For example, the three castles that dominate the skyline, stamping their
collective personality on the mountain like stone ghosts from the distant
past. They are not mock-ups, but real; men bled and died defending their
ramparts. And they are in perfect condition, thanks in large part to
free-spending movie companies in the 1940's (Prince of Foxes, with
Tyrone Power, was filmed here).
The castles are fortresses, constructed over a span of four centuries. One
—La Cesta, or "2d Tower"—contains the Medieval Man's
complete armory, an extensive collection of arms and equipment from the
Middle Ages. Of course San Marino is, in many ways, a museum in itself. And
the citizens have taken great pains to keep it that way, eschewing most of
what we call "modern conveniences." You will find no urban
renewal projects in San Marino (of course, there are no slums), no
skyscrapers or modern office buildings. The memory of ancient times, etched
in the stones, is the meal ticket of the San Marinese, and they know it.
How seriously do the San Marinese take their own country? Very seriously.
They leave, but they also return, drawn back to the strange peace that lies
over the land like a comforting, invisible fog, a peace that appears to
arise from being "stuck" in time, an easy way of life that is
made even more precious and is magnified by the caca-phony outside their