Europe is a mosaic of countries some of which are large (like Germany), while others are teeny tiny (like the Vatican City - which is only a few acres). The Vatican City is famously completely surrounded by Rome, but it isn't the only country to be completely surrounded by Italy. In 2018, San Marino was Europe's fastest-growing tourist destination.

San Marino is a surprisingly old micro-country set in Italy's Apennine Mountains. San Marino is more than a curious footnote to the world's collection of sovereign countries, it is also full of history, rich architecture, and stunning landscapes.

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The Origins of San Marino

The origins of San Marino can be traced all the way back to the Roman Empire to a stonemason called Saint Marinus (from whom the country gets its name). Saint Marinus was born in AD 275. As a stonemason, he took part in repairing the city wall's of the neighboring city of Rimini after the destruction by Liburnian pirates.

Saint Marinus went on to found an independently ruled monastic community on Mount Titan in AD 301. Based on that, San Marino claims to be the oldest existing sovereign state in the world - it also claims to be the oldest constitutional republic. While outside the scope of this article, the story of how it managed to cling on while surrounded by much more powerful kingdoms and the unification of Italy is a mesmerizing one.

  • Founder: Saint Marinus - a Stonemason
  • Founded: Claims To Have Been Founded In AD 301 (In The Roman Empire)
  • Oldest: Claims To Be The Oldest Country And Have The Oldest Constitutional Republic

What To Know About San Marino

San Marino is a fully landlocked country and only covers an area of just over 61 km2 (24 sq miles). Its population is that of a town with only 33,500 inhabitants. The capital of the microstate is called the City of San Marino but the largest settlement is Dogana.

  • Size: 61 km2 or 24 Sq miles
  • Population: 33,500
  • Completely Enclosed: San Marino Is One of Only Three Completely Enclosed Countries By Another Country (the Others being The Vatican City and Lesotho)

San Marino has no flat ground and the whole country is part of the Apennine mountains - making it stunning for hiking.

Today tourism is a major part of the San Marino economy. Despite only having around 33,000 inhabitants, it manages to attract some 2 million tourists a year. Most of these tourists are Italians who pop in for half a day or at most a night to see the curious country surrounded by their own.

One can plan one's trip and itinerary in this tiny country with their dedicated San Marino tourism website.

Related: 10 Most Instagrammable Things To Do In Rome

The City Of San Marino

The capital, the City of San Marino, is the main attraction in the country. It boasts the most attractions in the small country and has the country's highest point - Monte Titano. The settlement is perched on a hill and has an iconic historic center.

  • Population: 4,000

The main attractions in the City of San Marino are:

  • Basilica di San Marino
  • Palazzo dei Capitani
  • Palazzo Pubblico
  • Teatro Titano
  • The Three Towers of San Marino
  • Piazza del Titano
  • Piazza Garibaldi
  • Monastery of Santa Clara
  • Grand Hotel San Marino

Related: Supposedly, The Tomb Of St. Peter Is In A Necropolis Underneath the Vatican (And You Can Visit)

The Three Towers of San Marino

Easily the most iconic in the country, the Three Towers of San Marino are the greatest attraction in the country. They are a world heritage-listed group of towers on the three peaks of Monte Titano in the capital. These towers feature on both the national coat of arms and the San Marino flag.

Guaita Tower:

Guaita is the oldest of the three towers and the most famous. It dates well into the Medieval period having been constructed in the 11th century. The tower was rebuilt many times and the current form dates from the 15th century.

Cesta Tower:

The second tower is the Cesta which is perched on the highest of Monte Titano's summits. If one would like to learn about the founder of the world's oldest country, Saint Marinus, there is a museum dedicated to him in the tower. It also exhibits over 1,550 Medieval weapons and dates from the 13th century. It was built on the site of an older Roman fort.

Montale Tower:

The third tower is Montale. Unlike the other two, it is not open to the public. The only entrance into the tower is a door located around seven meters (yards) above the ground. It dates from the 14th century.