By C. McGrane.
Having made a few trips to Italy and after visiting a number of the larger cities, I think it’s clear that tourism has its firm favourites. The obvious ones include Rome, Pisa, Siena, Florence and Venice. Others that are well marketed are Pompeii, Verona, Milan and the area known as ‘Cinque Terre’ between Riomaggiore and Monterosso al Mare, on the Mediterranean Sea. An interesting fact is that within Italy there are two landlocked and completely independent nations. The more obvious one is The Vatican, which is entirely within the city of Rome, and the second is San Marino. It is possible to walk around the perimeter of The Vatican in about half an hour. It is officially the smallest country in the world. San Marino is Europe’s third smallest, after The Vatican and Monaco, having an area of 24 square miles (61sq. Km.) and an estimated 30,000 people living there. San Marino claims to be the oldest continuously functioning republic in the world, having been established in 301AD. It is also reported to have the oldest constitution in the world, which was drafted in 1600.
While The Vatican is basically a small city and is dominated by the impressive Saint Peter’s Basilica and dome, the Republic of San Marino (RSM) is towered over by a high, rocky outcrop called Mount Titano. The eastern face drops vertically to the modern city of San Marino surrounding it. On the western side there’s a slope down, the northern part of which contains the ‘Centro Storico’, the historical center. RSM’s panoramic outline is boldly dominated by three towers on the crest of the rock. These were built in 1320 to defend the old city. Some additions have been made and restorations carried out, but the original building work still looks impressive and imposing. Two of the towers also have courtyards and auxiliary buildings, one of which was a prison used up until the late 1800s. Another building houses a museum of antique weapons. The third and southernmost of the towers is just a plain, four sided, tall structure, though equally amazing. But there’s no door. Where’s the door? Ah, it’s up there, about three stories above the ground. This would have made it extremely difficult to penetrate. I’m sure a rope ladder was the main means of getting in and out.
Much of the old city and around the towers is geared towards the tourist industry. As busy as it is though, I heard very few English speaking visitors. This is quite a contrast to being at Pisa’s Leaning Tower, or by the Grand Canal in Venice, where it would seem like the majority of people are from the U.K., the U.S. or Australia. RSM is situated west of the Italian Adriatic coast, about a half hour by car from the sea side city of Rimini. Regular buses make the journey for only eight Euro return. Rimini, which is clearly visible from San Marino, is a good drop off point on the very reliable and comfortable Italian rail network. The beach at Rimini is just a section of what appears to be endless miles of unending sand being washed by the gentle waves of the Adriatic Sea.
A very interesting fact here is that RSM doesn’t actually have a Grand Prix track! The races are in fact held at the Dino and Enzo Ferrari Autodrome in Imola! By doing this it gave the Italians two races in the season to fuel their craze for Formula One and the red cars of Ferrari. The Italian Grand Prix is usually held at Monza, near Milan. Imola can be easily reached by train in less than an hour from Rimini, costing six Euro each way, and it is worth the journey for those with an interest in F1. The Autodrome was named after the father and son of one of the world’s pioneering motoring families, Ferrari of Modena. Indeed Ferrari and Formula One are practically joined at the hip because the red cars have raced in every F1 season since it began in 1950, the only team to hold that honor. Inside the Autodrome itself there is a sports complex and even a residential area. There is also a large public park called Aqua Minerale which contains a monument to Ayrton Senna, facing the curve where he died. The town of Imola doesn’t really have any other star attractions and being slightly inland, doesn’t have any beach.
These three towns together, San Marino, Rimini and Imola offer a good way to spend a few days off the tourist trail. Rimini finds itself half way between the port town of Ancona and the larger hub city of Bologna. Day trips to both Imola and the Republic of San Marino can easily be combined with a relaxing walk on the beach in Rimini. In towns like these, which have a lot less tourist volume that Rome or Florence, most of the local people don’t speak English so it’s more of a challenge for non-Italians. So it is worth it to remember that at least a few words of Italian make an impression. “Ciao”.