Although some time has passed since the last time I was there, when I think of San Marino (or rather, the Republic of San Marino) I still have a vivid memory of it. I remember the alleys of the historic center, the cobbled streets that lead to the towers, the charm of the landscape shrouded in fog, that medieval air that you breathe at every corner, the Statue of Liberty, the abandoned railway, the house of Santa Claus and also the anguish of the Torture Museum. I also remember the worry of not being able to see it in the light it deserved, given the rain of the evening on our arrival and the fog the next day. Instead I found out I was wrong: San Marino surrounded by fog is something exceptional. Especially in winter, a season that perfectly fit the little Republic.
What to do in San Marino? How to spend a weekend in this little State?
Did you know that it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO for being “a testimony of the continuity of a free Republic since the Middle Ages”? It is in fact the oldest republic in the world, founded by a stonemason fleeing the persecutions of Diocletian in 301 AD. In the Middle Ages, they gave themselves a municipal statute largely still in use today.
The first thing I realized is that San Marino has to be explored alley by alley. Being over Mount Titano, it offers unforgettable landscapes around every corner, viewpoint and arch. It is decorated with a thousand lights during the Christmas period, one more beautiful than the other. The city lights up and looks like a fairytale land, the country of Santa Claus (it isn’t a case if Christmas of Wonders takes place here!). In the historical center there is even the “Casa del Natale” (House of Christmas), open all year round: a three-storey shop that not only reproduces the house of Santa Claus, but contains any object, decoration and toy dedicated to Christmas or related to the most beautiful time of the year! A magical place where I could spend hours (and a ton of money!).
The Torture Museum
Despite its small size, San Marino is witness of centuries of human history. It is also witness of one of the cruelest thing, a mirror of the wickedness of the human being: torture.
Flaying Cat, the Spanish Spiders, the Forcella dell’Eretico (Eretic fork)… are just some of the names of the more than one hundred instruments of torture collected in the Torture Museum. Most are related to the dark ages of the Middle Ages, but some are more recent (eighteenth and nineteenth centuries) and are still used today in some areas of the world. This is perhaps what struck me the most. One always hopes that humanity will learn something from its history, but instead… Perhaps for this very reason, it is worth seeing it, to feel a little ashamed and try to learn.
The museum is open from January to February from 10.00 to 18.00; from March to December from 10.00 to 19.00, except in August when it is open from 10.00 to 24.00. Tickets cost 8,5 euros for adults and 6 euros for children.
For those who like the genre, in San Marino there is also the Museum of the Creatures of the Night, Vampires and Werewolves, a museum that collects the history, legend, myth and testimonies of these creatures. Just to add fear to fear.
In San Marino, however, there are not only scary museums. Very nice are also the Museum of Ancient Weapons and that of Modern Weapons; the permanent exhibition of San Marino craftsmanship; the Museum of Vintage Cars, that of Waxes and the Museum of Curiosities.
The historical center
Clean, tidy, efficient, and surrounded by breathtaking views. The heart of San Marino is a gem in which to stroll relaxed, enjoying the view and the moment. The Government Palace stands out, built right in front of Giosuè Carducci in the late 1800s, with its Bell Tower decorated with a large colorful clock and the white statues of Saints Agata, Marino and Leo. It is the seat of the regent captains who remain in office for six months. In front of the Palace, in Liberty Square, there is a white statue donated to the city by Countess Otilia Heyroth Wagener in 1876… guess what? It is called the Statue of Liberty! We can say that even inside Italy we have one!
In the historical center there is also the oldest building of the Republic of San Marino: the Church of San Francesco, in neoclassical style. It was built in 1361 and today it also houses a picture gallery-museum with paintings by Guercino and Raffaello.
The 3 towers
The Rocca, the Cesta and the Montale are the three freedom guards of the small republic, in my opinion one of those places to see at least once in a lifetime. Among their battlements you can admire beautiful landscapes… when we went there was a lot of fog but, as I said before, thanks to that the atmosphere was magical. The clouds below, the sun on our heads, the shadows of the towers reflected on the fog below our feet, dizzying overhangs and the stone of the towers perfectly merged with the rock of Mount Titano… a moment worthy of the best fantasy book. Three towers that dominate the mountain, the first point on which the gaze rests on your arrival to San Marino, guardian and attentive angels of the Republic, joined by paths that seem to be made on purpose to be unforgettable.
The first tower, the Rocca, is also the oldest, it has no foundations and the visual impact seems to be simply resting on the rock, overlooking the cliff. Inside are the prisons (used for detentions for up to six months), the chapel of Santa Barbara, the water well, the bell tower, the Torre della Penna and some artillery donated by Vittorio Emanuele III. You can climb to the top of Torre Penna, and it’s really worth it: from up here, you can see the second tower and, on clear days, also the peaks of the Conero (and all the beautiful landscapes in between).
The second tower, the Cesta, stands on the highest spur (755 m a.s.l.), where once the Romans had already built a watchtower. It fell into disuse when it lost its importance and was restored between 1924 and 1925. Today it houses the Museum of Ancient Weapons: an exhibition on three floors of all the weapons that have passed into the hands of men from prehistoric times to 1800.
Finally the third tower, Montale. It was a lookout tower and reached the maximum of its importance in the war with the Malatesta family. Outside of the war, it was used to signal passing travelers that they were required to pay a toll. Also, here is the obscure Bottom of the Tower, an eight-meter-deep ditch into which prisoners were thrown. Unfortunately, it cannot be visited, but the atmosphere pays off for the wooded path that you have to face to reach it.
A place in San Marino that very few know of: in the Omerelli district, beyond Porta della Rupe, there is a special place pervaded by intense quiet. It is a small door carved into the cliff, in which there is a wooden seat (but you can also sit on the ground) and nothing else. It was created in this way to allow people of every culture and religion to be able to stop and gather in meditation and prayer.
San Marino knows how to give intense moments. I called it the State of Emotions because no one here can remain numb.