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It may look like it’s a part of Italy, but teensy-weensy Republic of San Marino is a world apart. At 24 square miles, it’s the fifth smallest nation in the world, and dates back to the third century AD. That’s when a guy named Saint Marino came a callin’. If you want to come a callin’ in this century, it can be tricky. If you don’t have a car, the best way to get here is via the town of Rimini in the Emilia-Romagna region. A direct bus goes to San Marino several times a day. The ride takes about 45 minutes.

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What does today’s pilgrim do in this independent country within a country, the world’s oldest republic? Here are eight options.

san-marino-aerial

1. Wander the ancient streets of Old Town

Start at Saint Francis’s Gate. Don’t miss the panoramic views of the Apennines and the Adriatic coastline. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Croatia.

First Tower | Photo courtesy of Laura Powell

First Tower | Photo courtesy of Laura Powell

2. Visit the First and Second Tower

The First Tower was built in the 11th century and today offers a view of fortress life. The Second Tower, circa the 13th century, now houses the Museum of Ancient Weapons. There is a Third Tower, but it is not open for visits. Still, a hike to its hill provides a stunning view.

piazza-della-liberta-san-marino

3. Submerse yourself in the quirks of Sammarinese politics

Head to the Public Palace in Piazza della Liberta. The building is home to government goings-on. While the country does have two concurrent presidents who reign for six-month terms (wouldn’t that be nice?), it is actually ruled by a General Council and a Council of Ministers.

4. Get to know the country’s namesake saint

The State Museum exhibits archaeological remnants confirming the story of Saint Marino, along with artifacts detailing the history of the Republic. Not to be missed is the collection of ancient San Marino currency.

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Basilica di San Marino | Photo courtesy of Laura Powell

Basilica di San Marino | Photo courtesy of Laura Powell

5. Marvel at the Basilica di San Marino

This is a 19th-century edifice built on the foundations of an earlier church dedicated to the country’s favorite saint. The interior is classic basilica style, with a long nave and two side aisles lined with altars. For many years, San Marino had resided alone above the main altar, until Vatican officials recommended altering the area to include Jesus prior to a visit by Pope Benedict.

6. Try your hand at the local sport

Target Cava dei Balestriari/Crossbowmen’s Quarry: Crossbow, similar to archery, is a big sport in San Marino. Check out practice sessions and competitions at the quarry. Open-air concerts are also held here in the summertime.

Open Air Museum | Photo courtesy of Laura Powell

Open Air Museum | Photo courtesy of Laura Powell

7. Visit an open-air museum

San Marino’s Open Air Museum extends throughout the Old Town. Sculptures pay homage to everything from motherhood and ballerinas to peace and the history of science to wasps.

passport

8. Get your passport stamped

As you won’t be stopped at the Italian border, opt to get the prized passport stamp at the San Marino Tourism Office. It costs five euros, which is well worth the bragging rights.

 

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Tagged: Europe

Laura Powell

Laura Powell

Laura is a 20-year veteran travel journalist. She was CNN's first travel reporter, and has written for publications ranging from Alaska Airlines Magazine to The Washington Post. Find her at the www.dailysuitcase.com or on Twitter: @dailysuitcase

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