Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about San Marino …

Posted on
May 9, 2011

… but never asked (mostly because you had never heard of it before).

Downtown San Marino.

During our last trip to Italy, Rand and I spent a few days in San Marino, which is not far from Bologna. Prior to arriving, my knowledge of the place could be summed up thusly:

  • It was the answer to a rather misleading question in Trivial Pursuit that threw Pinguina off track last time she played. The question was, “What European republic rhymes with the name of a famous football player?” And while “San Marino” and “Dan Marino” do rhyme, it seems kind of unfair as the last three syllables of each phrase is, in fact, identical. By such logic, one could argue that “orange” actually rhymes with itself. A bit of a cop-out, really.
  • Absolutely nothing else.

So, with the same ambitiousness with which I research most of my trips (that it to say, none) I went on the all-knowing Google to learn a little more about the Italian city of San Marino. Here is what I was able to gather. Facts are not guaranteed accurate and subject to change (thanks, internet!):

  1. It is not an Italian city at all. Nope. San Marino is, in fact, its own tiny little country (considered a European microstate, like Liechtenstein or the Vatican). Conveniently, though it is not part of Italy, everyone speaks Italian, you can enter the country without going through passport control, and they are on the Euro. Also, it’s completely surrounded by Italy. But it’s not Italian.
  2. When I say it’s little, I mean it’s really little. San Marino encompasses 24 square miles (Manhattan is about 22, for reference), making it the fifth smallest country on the planet, and 1/40 the size of Rhode Island.
  3. Like Sophia Petrillo, in addition to being small, it is also really old. San Marino is the oldest republic in the world, and the oldest sovereign state still in existence – it’s been around since 301 C.E. It also has the oldest constitution in the world (that’s still in use) – it was enacted in 1600.
  4. There’s no national debt. And virtually no unemployment, either (the country). This is probably largely due to the fact that virtually everyone, everywhere, is selling tchotchkes that range from Virgin Mary snowglobes to, inexplicably, Tweety bird cigarette cases (I had hoped, somewhere, I would find some sort of hybrid of the two – a bastard child of religious kitsch and Warner Brothers copyright infringement. Alas, no dice.)
  5. They don’t really have a military. The military they do have (one of the smallest in the world) is largely ceremonial, and basically stands guard in pretty uniforms in front of government buildings, or at the opening of whatever the Sammarinese equivalent  of a K-Mart is.
  6. If they do need a military, Italy has got their back (which is pretty cool of them, considering they aren’t part of Italy).
  7. In the past, San Marino has apparently declared war on other countries and sort of forgotten about it. But again, that’s not really a big deal on account of their lack of a military. It’s like divorcing someone to whom you are not married.
  8. They provided refuge to more than 100,000 persecuted Italians and Jews during WWII. This was 10 times the population of San Marino at the time. I like to envision thousands and thousands of Jews roaming the streets of San Marino, curiously examining the tiny Madonna souvenirs and grabbing one for cousin Mordecai, who would totally get a kick out of that sort of thing.
  9. San Marino had the first democratically-elected Communist government. Had Americans been aware of the country’s existence in the 1940s (I was not around, and yet, I can safely assume we were not) I am sure we would have freaked out about this fact.
  10. The country boasts its own regional cake. And I missed it. Sigh. Yes, it’s true: there’s apparently a chocolate and wafer dessert called “Torta di Tre Monti” (cake of the three towers) that is pretty darn fantastic. And somehow I, the girl who has literally FLOWN TO SAN DIEGO FOR CHOCOLATE CAKE (I lied when I told my family it was for Christmas), didn’t try it. I … I have no words.

So, there you have it: a crash-course in San Marino. It’s tiny, it’s feisty, it declares war (without a military) and promptly forgets about it. And, despite being smaller than Manhattan, it has its own military. It other words? My kind of town country.

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