San Marino … the other Statue of Liberty, festive guard uniforms, two famous clifftop towers and the third one hardly anyone knows about: capturing the perfect picture-postcard shot inside the world’s fifth smallest country

The two million or so annual visitors to the ‘Most Serene Republic of San Marino’ – or ‘San Marino’ for short – are certain to have taken a photo or three of the country’s iconic fortress towers. In fact, it is more than likely that the towers and their immediate surroundings were the only sights these tourists would have taken snaps of as hardly any non-resident inside the world’s fifth smallest country ventures beyond the peak of Mount Titano and the Old Town (the City of San Marino) perched on top of it.

Always striving to be different from the crowd, I wanted to take a photograph that was recognisably ‘San Marino’ but stood out from the endless, typical shots of the fortress on the Mount often found on Instagram. So, for two days back in June 2015, I set myself the task of capturing that unique snap…. although I did take endless, typical shots of the fortress as well (and uploaded a fair few of them onto Instagram). The place is so photogenic, I just couldn’t resist!

Typically San Marino: one of millions of similar snaps taken annually by tourists capturing the country's famous and iconic Rocca Maggiore (the major fortress) and Guaita (the First Tower)

Typically San Marino: one of millions of similar snaps taken annually by tourists capturing the country’s famous and iconic Rocca Maggiore (the major fortress) and Guaita (the First Tower)

There has been a fortress here since the eleventh century. The present walls and tower date back to the fifteenth century. The stepped pathway up to it probably only dates from the turn of this century

There has been a fortress here since the eleventh century. The present walls and tower date back to the fifteenth century. The stepped pathway up to it probably only dates from the turn of this century

Guaita: the First Tower and most photographed tower in San Marino, apparently used as a prison until 1975

Guaita: the First Tower and most photographed tower in San Marino, apparently used as a prison until 1975

Within the inner yard of the Rocca Maggiore stands the small Church of Saint Barbara, patron saint of artillerymen

Within the inner yard of the Rocca Maggiore stands the small Church of Saint Barbara, patron saint of artillerymen

Either builders in fifteenth century San Marino were centuries ahead of their fellow European counterparts in technique and materials, or the church's most recent restoration back in the 1960s has done little to retain any of the building's fifteenth century character

Either builders in fifteenth century San Marino were centuries ahead of their fellow European counterparts in technique and materials, or the church’s most recent restoration back in the 1960s has done little to retain any of the building’s fifteenth century character

Thankfully the worn lunette over the church doorway has not been 'restored'. It dates back to the thirteenth century

Thankfully the worn lunette over the church doorway has not been ‘restored’. It dates back to the thirteenth century

Most visitors to the Major Fortress walk right past the church and head straight for the fortress walls and Guaita to savour and photograph the stunning views beyond.

The bell tower and San Marino beyond, seen from the top of the First Tower

The bell tower and San Marino beyond, seen from the top of the First Tower

Arty San Marino shot number one: looking out of a shuttered window inside the First Tower towards...

Arty San Marino shot number one: looking out of a shuttered window inside the First Tower towards…

... the tower of the Second Fortress and probably the second most photographed building in San Marino. Cesta is built on top of the highest point of Mount Titano, just over 750 metres above sea level

… the tower of the Second Fortress and probably the second most photographed building in San Marino. Cesta is built on top of the highest point of Mount Titano, just over 750 metres above sea level

Arty San Marino shot number two

Arty San Marino shot number two

Although along the ridge of Mount Titano, the walk up to the Second Tower from the First involves hardly any effort at all with a well paved path running parallel with the fortress wall

Although along the ridge of Mount Titano, the walk up to the Second Tower from the First involves hardly any effort at all with a well paved path running parallel with the fortress wall

Some tourists still prefer to take the original route there

Some tourists still prefer to take the original route there

Cesta: the Second Tower

Cesta: the Second Tower

As with the Major Fortress, attempts to engage visitors with insights into San Marino’s history are made at Cesta. The Museum of Ancient Weapons hosted inside the Second Tower, displays a large selection of weapons, armoury, swords and shields dating back centuries.

San Marino, San Marino City, Second Tower, garrison and weapon collection on display

San Marino, San Marino City, Second Tower, weapon and body armour collection on display

This vast collection made up of two thousand pieces, was once owned by a single and rather enthusiastic resident of San Marino. Although anyone outside the country might question how healthy this individual’s obsession with weapons was, the endless replica swords and guns one can easily – and disturbingly – buy from the many souvenir shops in the Old Town may suggest his ‘passion’ barely raised an eyebrow in his native country.

The displays are spread across four rooms inside the tower. These rooms were once used by the country’s garrison in centuries gone by. Yet again however, this rich insight into San Marino’s history appears to be in vain as most visitors walk right past the displays without a second glance and go straight out onto the terraces to capture more stunning views across the Mount. Who can blame them with vistas like these:

I won't go into detail about the positions and stretches I adopted to get this snap of the First Tower (left) seen from the top of the Second. Let's just say if this had been taken in England, I would have broken several Health & Safety rules and possibly my neck

I won’t go into detail about the positions and stretches I adopted to get this snap of the First Tower (left) seen from the top of the Second. Let’s just say if this had been taken in England, I would have broken several Health & Safety rules and possibly my neck

San Marino, San Marino City, La Rocca o Guaita First Tower seen from the top of La Cesta o Fratta Second Twoer

Arty San Marino shot number two hundred and fifty-three

Arty San Marino shot number two hundred and fifty-three

Most tourists to San Marino visit the country as part of a day trip. Often this means that there is only time to explore the streets of the Old Town and visit Rocca Maggiore and Cesta before the last bus to Rimini leaves as early as 7pm (depending on the time of year). Maybe because of this time constraint and maybe because it is not as impressive, the Third Tower – Montale – further along the ridge of the Mount, rarely attracts the kind of numbers of visitors the First and Second Towers regularly enjoy on a daily basis. Most tourists are probably not even aware that there is a third tower. Others are probably put off by the distance and the rocky, less maintained path to it from the Second Tower.

The almost forgotten Third Tower - Montale - seen from the Second Tower

The almost forgotten Third Tower – Montale – seen from the Second Tower

Poor Montale, out here all by itself, not even connected to the fortress walls

Poor Montale, out here all by itself, not even connected to the fortress walls

There is another tower in San Marino that is as popular with tourists (and their cameras) as Guaita and Cesta, but unlike Montale it is not a fortress tower. It is the Clock Tower of the Public Palace found in the centre of the Old Town.

The three figures on the front of the Clock Tower of the Public Palace are Saint Marinus the founder of San Marino, Saint Agatha the patron Saint of San Marino, and Saint Leo who built the first monastery in nearby Rimini

The three figures on the front of the Clock Tower of the Public Palace are Saint Marinus the founder of San Marino, Saint Agatha the patron Saint of San Marino, and Saint Leo who built the first monastery in nearby Rimini

Tourists are attracted to the Public Palace - the political headquarters of San Marino - not just for the chance to view the country from the top of the Clock Tower, but mainly to watch the Changing of the Guard

Tourists are attracted to the Public Palace – the political headquarters of San Marino – not just for the chance to view the country from the top of the Clock Tower, but mainly to watch the Changing of the Guard

Some guards at the entrance to the Public Palace, waiting to be changed

Some guards at the entrance to the Public Palace, waiting to be changed

The art of pom pom balancing. Don't be fooled by the Christmas elf coloured uniform. The Guardia di Rocca will defend to the death if need be...

The art of pom pom balancing. Don’t be fooled by the Christmas elf coloured uniform. The Guardia di Rocca will defend to the death if need be…

...but are just as happy to pose for a photo

…but are just as happy to pose for a photo

In contrast, the San Marino Police force look more like a Village People tribute band. I think he is attempting the letter 'A' here

In contrast, the San Marino Police force look more like a Village People tribute band. I think he is attempting the letter ‘A’ here

Police officers are often stationed by the Porta San Francesco (Saint Francis's Gate), first built in 1361 as a guarding post within the walls of the city

Police officers are often stationed by the Porta San Francesco (Saint Francis’s Gate), first built in 1361 as a guarding post within the walls of the city

My guidebook wasn’t particularly flattering towards San Marino’s Old Town. The word “ugly” was often used in the descriptions. Most of the buildings making up the Old Town are arguably not architecturally attractive, and as in the case of the Church of Saint Barbara in the Rocca Maggiore, others have been ‘restored’ beyond historical recognition and interest.

Walking along Via Bascilicius towards Piazza Titano. The double glazed windows above this arch seem to stand out, but probably for all the wrong reasons

Walking along Via Bascilicius towards Piazza Titano. The double glazed windows above this arch seem to stand out, but probably for all the wrong reasons

Hmmm...

Hmmm…

One historical building within the Old Town that seems to have avoided San Marino’s over-indulgence in ‘restoration’, is La Chiesetta di San Pietro (the Little Church of Saint Peter). Three-quarters of the church may well have been demolished in 1826 to make way for the Basilica next door, but what is left of it is charming. The centuries old church is said to stand on the spot where Saint Marinus built his monastery a millennium ago resulting in the formation of San Marino.

Admittedly, the front of the Little Church of Saint Peter does appear a little over-restored

Admittedly, the front of the Little Church of Saint Peter does appear a little over-restored

From the neighbouring Borghesi Gardens one can appreciate the original architecture of the little church built into the rock. Less appreciation may be had for the replica roof tiles

From the neighbouring Borghesi Gardens one can appreciate the original architecture of the little church built into the rock. Less appreciation may be had for the replica roof tiles

The main altar inside the little church stands in front of the rock face in which the church is built into. Two carved rectangular spaces around one-and-a-half metres long, one metre deep and half a metre high can just be made out behind the altar. Apparently, these cavities are believed to be beds where Saint Marinus and Saint Leo once slept. The rock is said to have good thermal qualities so would have offered the men warmth at night, but probably little else in the way of comfort.

The two rectangular 'bed' cavities carved into the rock can be seen on either side of the statue of Saint Peter and just above the rim of the red curtain. One is directly behind the candles on the right and one is partially obscured by the arch but is lit up, to the left of the candles on the left

The two rectangular ‘bed’ cavities carved into the rock can be seen on either side of the statue of Saint Peter and just above the rim of the red curtain. One is directly behind the candles on the right and one is partially obscured by the arch but is lit up, to the left of the candles on the left

If this was once the bed of Saint Marinus then this is literally a 'rock hard' bed. This must also be the 'bedrock' Saint Marinus is said to have built San Marino on (hawh hawh!)

If this was once the bed of Saint Marinus then this is literally a ‘rock hard’ bed. This must also be the ‘bedrock’ Saint Marinus is said to have built San Marino on (hawh hawh!)

Beside the Little Church of Saint Peter is the Grand Basilica dedicated to Saint Marinus

Beside the Little Church of Saint Peter is the Grand Basilica dedicated to Saint Marinus

The Basilica is awash with columns, both on the outside...

The Basilica is awash with columns, both on the outside…

...and on the inside

…and on the inside

The Basilica makes for a lovely photo, but I doubt many outside San Marino would even recognise it

The Basilica makes for a lovely photo, but I doubt many outside San Marino would even recognise it

As my last evening in San Marino drew to an end, I realised I had taken hundreds of photos in and around the Old Town, but had failed in my quest to capture that one unique photo of San Marino. On the way back to my hotel I passed the Public Palace one last time.

San Marino, San Marino City, Public Palace and Statue of Liberty at sun set

The Piazza Libertà in front of the Palace was now completely quiet with not a soul about. All the tourists, and even the guards, had gone home for the evening. In the centre of this square stands the country’s own Statue of Liberty. The Statue is nothing like the more famous American one, but is just as symbolic… for the people of San Marino at least.

Hanging out with Liberty herself, now that all the tourists had gone home

Hanging out with Liberty herself, now that all the tourists had gone home

Just as I was leaving, I turned around to look at the Square for one last time and finally caught the shot I had been after:

The Statue of Liberty against the San Marino setting sun. Unique and symbolically San Marino? Well, I was impressed with the shot

The Statue of Liberty against the San Marino setting sun. Unique and symbolically San Marino? Well, I was impressed with the shot

 

Useful information

Buses to San Marino leave from the neighbouring Italian city of Rimini, where the main airport (Federico Fellini Airport) that services San Marino can also be found. The first bus stop on the route is just outside Rimini train station. There are around ten buses to and from San Marino daily, every 75 minutes or so. The journey takes around half an hour depending on traffic, and tickets for the journey can be purchased on the bus for around €5 one way (2016). The buses are more like coaches and they certainly stand out with images of San Marino covering even some of the windows. There are no trains to or from San Marino. More information can be found on the Visit San Marino website here.

Entrance to the First and Second Towers costs €4.50 per tower (2016). This is also the price for entry into the Public Palace. Tickets can be bought on entry.

The Combined Museum Pass for €10.50 (2016) is a good investment if you are planning to visit the Public Palace as well as Guaita and Cesta. Make sure you return the Pass to any of the participating tourist sights’ ticket offices once you are finished with it to be refunded the €1.50 booking fee (2016).

If you are staying in a hotel in San Marino, make sure you are given a free TuttoSanMarino card at check-in. With it the Combined Museum Pass is even better value at the discounted price of €7.50 (2016). There are other benefits one can enjoy with this card, as detailed on the Visit San Marino website.

Opening times for all the main tourists sights in San Marino can be found here.

The Changing of the Guard takes place outside the Public Palace hourly between 9.30am and 5.30pm every day from May until September.

TLT x


 

At last! The way out, but will I get out of this tunnel before that train moves into it?

A mysterious train line, buying replica guns and trying desperately to escape off Mount Titano: alternative things to see and do in San Marino not necessarily listed in the guide books

 

 

 

 

 


 

I couldn't work out whether this was supposed to be Nosferatu or legendary comedian Ken Dodd: Diddy scare me? Diddy hell!

Trying not to find pleasure inside the Museum of Torture, and trying not to laugh inside the Museum of Vampires. Alternative tourist activities in San Marino

 

 

 

 

 


 

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1 Response to San Marino … the other Statue of Liberty, festive guard uniforms, two famous clifftop towers and the third one hardly anyone knows about: capturing the perfect picture-postcard shot inside the world’s fifth smallest country

  1. victoria says:

    Wow – what beautiful pictures!

    I really wanted to head to San Marino when we toured Europe, but we just didn’t have the time. You’ve just bumped San Marino up to the top of my Bucket List!

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