San Marino & San Leo

Yesterday we ticked off the last of our trips. This one was all high altitude stuff with visits to two cities perched on rocks. San Marino has an altitude of 750m and San Leo 600m compared to where we are staying at 315m. These elevations are made more obvious because you have a view of the sea.

San Marino has the distinction of being the only place where Google navigation behaves strangely. Any route to or from a location within its boundaries will only let you “preview” the route and does not give you the option to “start” so it will not give you turn by turn directions. Drive 50m over the border into Italy and everything works fine! Is this a licensing issue or does San Marino have a cloak of invisibility?

The Most Serene Republic of San Marino claims to be the oldest surviving sovereign state and constitutional republic in the world, as the continuation of the monastic community founded in 301 by a stonemason monk who had travelled from what is now a Croatian island to Rimini to repair the walls of the city. Because of the persecution of Christians by the Romans, primarily Diocletian, he left Rimini and set up camp on the top of Mount Titano. By a combination of luck and good diplomacy what is now San Marino has managed to remain independent ever since.

The historical centre of the city is a nice place for a short wander but most of the walking is either up or downhill and the whole place is, naturally enough, very touristy. We spent about three hours there which was enough time to do the first tower, Guaita, the Basilica di San Marino, the Palazzo Pubblico, walk a few streets and take a break at a cafe with a view.

We drove as far up as we could go and still find a green light for parking. This turned out to be parking number 7, which leaves just a shortish walk up to the tower. In this heat the idea of walking any further up the “almost vertical” pathways was not attractive. Traffic was easy aside from the odd coach and parking was metered at about a Euro an hour so you need some change. No need for passports or any form of ID at the border in case you were wondering.

San Leo is small and cute and lies about a 40 minute drive from the parking in San Marino. The main attraction, which we saw but did not hike up to, is the castle which was used for many years as a papal prison, the most famous inmate being the charlatan Cagliostro who died there in 1795. The road entry to the city can be a bit intimidating for those with vertigo but if you’ve done a tower at San Marino beforehand then it’s no worse than that. You have to park in one of the designated car parks and then walk around.

The feel is very “old stone wall” ish. There is a church and chapel, a town square, a busy music/art institute and a few short streets with mostly cafes and restaurants. It was worth visiting but does not justify more than a couple of hours, perhaps three if you throw in the prison.

Pictures (top to bottom):

View from San Marino tower
Basilica di San Marino
Palazzo Pubblico
San Leo bell tower and prison in distance





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