• Diana & Greg

Climbing on the top of the third smallest country in Europe

Updated: Mar 26, 2019

We planned to visit San Marino, Europe´s third smallest country as part of our Italian round trip. We were curious to see what this state looks like, how people are living there, what their history is and what was preserved during the centuries.

San Marino Old Town

Landlocked by Italy, San Marino is actually built on and around a 700m tall hill. It managed to defend itself from the attacks of the Italians, French and Germans due to its neutral political stance and due to Mount Titano being a good strategic position. On the 3 peaks of Mount Titano 3 fortresses were built where citizens took refuge during wartime.

We decided to visit Fortress Guaita, the most famous of the three. We drove to one of the several parking lots at the entrance of the fortress, as the top of the hill can be approached only by foot. Though we don´t speak Italian, the official language of San Marino and Italy, handling the automat of the parking lot and getting directions was easy. The Italian language is not difficult to learn at all: it is rooted in Latin, where many of its neologisms are originating from. If you speak any other Latin language like Spanish or French or you studied Latin at school, Italian will be very easy to understand and even to speak. Besides, Italians and the San Marinese are friendly, you can communicate easily even if you don´t know the language.

Souvenir Shop on Monte Titano

Finding the top of the hill from the parking lot was an easy task, all you have to do is keep climbing, but we also had the GPS with us. The streets are nice on Mount Titano: narrow paths bordered by multi-store houses, shops, restaurants and hotels. The shop windows are full of tempting goods: jewelry, watches, souvenirs; the smell of pizza and tagliatelle tried to detour us at every step, nevertheless we resisted the temptation and headed towards the fortress.

For a fee of 3 euro you can enter the inner court and climb the tower. All three fortresses are made of medieval stone blocks, that lend the place an ancient mood. Don’t let this fool you though: San Marino is a modern town, everything is state of the art, kept clean, and made to best serve visitors and residents alike.

Courtyard of Guaita Fortress

Opposite the ticket office is a small chapel, so tiny that it can only house a few benches and a small altar.

The courtyard is also small, but it is well looked after, and it even has a small coquette flower bed to cheer up the place.

It’s clear that a conscious effort was put into creating a few green patches and colorful flower beds, which is a strong contrast with other Italian town squares like the one in Rimini, where flowers and vegetation are completely absent.

There is an exhibition in Guaita next to the tower, but artefacts are only tagged in Italian (no English descriptions) so we didn’t understand all the aspects of the pieces on display. There are a few rooms with medieval weaponry, rooms that used to be prison cells with wall paintings made by the prisoners and a brief summary of their history. The whole exhibition can be viewed in 20 minutes. After we were done, we went on to climb the tower.

Wall paintings made by prisoners in Guaita Fortress

Guaita Fortress External Wall

The view from above is breath-taking. You can see the other fortresses (Cesta and Montale), the Alps, the city of San Marino, and the fields extending beyond the horizon. Even though the valley was covered by a thick layer of fog - result of the cool morning and the warming mid-day - we still enjoyed the view.

Cesta Tower from Guaita Fortress

Cava dei Balestrieri

We probably could have seen even farther without the fog, and might have taken clearer pictures, but the fog added a bit of a dreamy atmosphere.

From the walls we climbed even higher into the watch tower. To reach the top you have to climb a wooden ladder, just like climbing to a loft. The ladder is only wide enough to hold one person, so you have to show a bit of courtesy and patience and make place for those wanting to descend. The upper level is bright, illuminated by the many windows that also serve you spectacular views in all directions. It´s not a skyscraper but is high enough to give you butterflies in your stomach if you are afraid of heights.

From the Guaita Tower we took a walk to the Basilica di San Marino where the remains of the founder are buried. The interior of the cathedral is minimalist, but the high ceiling and the grandeur of the building well express the majesty of the divinity, just as in any other Catholic cathedral. Behind the church is the monument of Bartolomeo Borghesi, an Italian antiquarian who set the basics of numismatics (the science of coins) and settled at San Marino where he lived until his death in 1860.

Basilica del Santo

Armour of a knight

Next to the monument is the cable car station that connects Borgo Maggiore with the city centre of San Marino. The ride takes 2 minutes and promises a view of the Adriatic coast. Since we came by car we headed back to the top parking lot.

We ended our trip to San Marino with a good Italian coffee at the Ristorante Agli Antichi Orti and headed back to the beach in Rimini.

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