Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

No other country in Europe can boast so beautiful a name: La Serenissima Repubblica di San Marino. But to experience the serenity of San Marino, you really need to stay overnight in the capital, which clusters around the summit of Monte Titano. Only then can you catch the flavour of another Europe, a long-forgotten Europe, composed of a myriad of small city-states. San Marino is a survivor from an earlier age.

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Napoleon Bonaparte must have been in a particularly good mood on the day that his forces caught sight of San Marino, the little republic that clusters around Mount Titano in the Apennines. Napoleon was quartered with his troops on the Adriatic coast at Pesaro. He sent an emissary, a mathematician called Gaspard Monge, up into the hills with a message of fraternal greetings from the French Republic.

Monsieur Monge turned up unannounced on the heights of Mount Titano, and gave a little speech that nicely compared San Marino’s republican values and sense of liberty with the achievements of ancient Athens, Thebes and Rome. Assailed by such flattery, it is small surprise that the Captains Regent and citizens of San Marino gave their eloquent visitor a very civil reception. After he had made a thorough inspection of the republic, Gaspard Monge returned to base camp to brief his commander on the good-natured gentility that prevailed in San Marino. Napoleon was so impressed that he arranged for a consignment of wheat to be delivered to San Marino and promised that four cannons would follow.

We do not know if Napoleon subsequently had second thoughts about those cannons. Perhaps he just had a poor memory. But, for whatever reason, the four cannons never arrived in San Marino. As the hilltop territory has never been in the habit of fighting anyone, the lack of French cannons hardly mattered. The wheat was enough to promote a good feeling about all things French in San Marino. Among the rasher promises made by Gaspard Monge was an assurance that the Sammarinese would forever be exempted from French taxation. We suspect that this particular understanding is not nowadays honoured by French taxation officials in their dealings with migrants from San Marino who settle in France.

Gaspard Monge was overwhelmed by Sammarinese hospitality, though a little daunted at the difficulty of reaching the republic in the hills. Terrain has been the greatest ally of the Serenissima Repubblica di San Marino — deterring invaders and safeguarding the territory’s independence. In the more than two hundred years since Monge’s excursion to San Marino, the republic’s reputation for hospitality has never faded, but access has become a little easier.

Mindful of the difficulties that Gaspard Monge encountered, we sought local advice before setting out from the Italian coast for San Marino. The oracle at the bus stand outside the main railway station in Rimini advised that San Marino was way beyond his compass. “Linea internazionale,” he muttered, by way of explanation.

Happily, an elderly lady standing nearby came to our aid. “Your best bet would be to walk over there past the Burger King and then wait outside the gynaecologist’s place,” she said.

We meditated on how the art of navigation has evolved in recent years. The gynaecologist, one Dr Paltrinieri, has his clinic in a handsome two-storey villa with a fine patio. It turned out that the bus from Rimini to San Marino commences its international journey at the bus stop by Dr Paltrinieri’s front gate. The bus stop is well signed in Italian, English and Russian — this last is a reminder that visitors from Russia nowadays flock to this stretch of Italy’s Adriatic coast. This summer no less than nine different airlines are competing on the Moscow to Rimini route.

Approaching San Marino

The coach to San Marino is a cut above the humble omnibuses that routinely ply the streets of Rimini.

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About the authors

hidden europe

and Susanne Kries manage hidden europe, a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine. Nicky and Susanne are dedicated slow travellers. They delight in discovering the exotic in the everyday.

This article was published in hidden europe 37.