The Most Serine Republic of San Marino is one of the smallest countries in the world, only 61.2 km2 in area with a population of only 30,000 people. It is the oldest constitutional republic in the world, gaining independence on the 3rd of September 301 after being founded by the stonecutter Marinus of Rab. Perhaps the most remarkable facet of the history of San Marino is that it has managed to keep its independence for so long, despite being almost powerless. Partly this is because of the lack of interest - there was little reason for any of the major powers to absorb it. The other, probably not insignificant, factor is the spectacular natural defense San Marino has. Mount Titano (755m high) stands out for miles, rising up from the plains with sheer cliffs. Even from a distance the three towers of San Marino are clearly visible, perched on top of the mountain. Up close the fortifications are even more significant, with the thick stone walls and towers built onto the cliff face, making any attack a nightmarish scenario. If the surprising number of weapon shops in San Marino are anything to go by, the Sammarese didn’t keep the walls as an empty threat.
In 1600 San Marino adopted its constitution, now the oldest constitution still in effect, and it was this which probably saved San Marino during the Napoleonic Wars - Napoleon saw San Marino as a perfect example of a constitutional republic and vowed to do anything he could to maintain its independence. San Marino was also the first country to officially adopt neutrality as its foreign policy (centuries before Switzerland, another country that combines armed force with formal neutrality), and this saved it from the next threat to its independence - during the Unification of Italy. Due to its neutrality, San Marino served as a refuge for partisans during the Unification Wars, and it was in honour of this role that Giuseppe Garibaldi honoured its wish to remain independent. Another first for little San Marino is that it was the first country in the world to democratically elect a Communist government, first in 1945-1957 and again in 2006-2008, Now San Marino is one of the richest and healthiest countries in the world, and still independent 1709 years on - a record unrivalled by any of the bigger countries which distain to notice the Most Serine Republic.
While my attraction to San Marino was based on its historical novelty, we were all pleasantly surprised at how charming the city was. The setting is simply spectacular, with knurled pines and bare rock framing the classically designed castle. During the day the city was friendly and bustling, then after 6:30 (the last bus out of San Marino) it became a sleepy village, a place to sit down, eat great food and enjoy both the mountain air and the stunning vista.