A Spanish saying goes, “Preguntando, se llega a Roma” — “If you continue asking, you’ll reach Rome.” Although this time we were in Italy and definitely inquired to no end, we were not headed to the Eternal City.
One of the ports of call of the Rhapsody of the Seas’ Mediterranean and Adriatic Cruise was Ravenna, a city we had visited before, memorable for its preserved architecture and mosaics that harken back to the times they were the capital of the Western Roman Empire.
We soon figured this would be the closest we will ever be to San Marino — a speck of a country in Southern Europe. I was determined to finally complete my tours of city-states such as Andorra, Monaco, Liechtenstein and The Vatican, all of them on my bucket list since childhood.
We snooped around and asked left and right, high and low, until we bumped into a helpful local couple who proudly announced that they had a son who was very familiar with our desired destination. We immediately set off on a day trip 80 kilometers away.
Founded in 301 AD, this makes San Marino the world’s oldest state. This independent territory of only 62 kilometers was a perfect refuge for those who left their nations to escape religious persecution, as it is surrounded by hills and mountains that also protected its inhabitants from never-ending foreign invaders.
We began our exploration at the Porta Della Frata — the major entrance, unimpeded by vehicles. The main street, flanked by cathedrals and churches, residences and offices, shops and stalls, bistros and bars, plus glimpses flowers and green patches on both sides, was made explicitly for walking and sightseeing — a promising start.
What immediately caught our eye was the rather homely Palazzo Publico, the official government seat of power and the venue for most administrative ceremonies and commemorations. Architecturally split into three parts, it featured a clock tower that illuminates in the evenings.
We must laud the commitment to their unique version of Changing of the Guard, an hourly rotation of sentinels — decked in orange and green — that keeps peace and order in the area. Nearby was the Piazza Della Libreta, their very own symbol akin to the Statue of Liberty in New York.
As we stepped out, we roamed and recounted the several statues, monuments and busts sculptures all throughout this country. Make time to check out Monument to Melchiorre Delfico by Saroldi, Monument to Bramante Lazzari by Gentiloni, Neutrality by Guguiani — masterpieces all. Stop and read the dedications to Mahatma Gandhi and Guiseppe Garibaldi.
We then headed to the Basilica del Santo Marino, which was rebuilt on its former ruins. We were awed at the true-to-life, life-sized sculpture of San Marino, by Giulio Tadolini, a student of the popular artisan Antonio Canova. At the high altar, inside the gilded case, were precious relics of their patron saint.
We continued to Saint Peter Church, where the golden main altar carried statues of the first pope and his apostles. There were sections dedicated to Pope John XXIII, Pope Leo the First and San Marino himself.
A final stopover did not disappoint. The St. Francis Church served as a conservatory of some priceless obras maestras such as the Ecstasy of St. Francesco by Tiziano Vecellio, plus the Dead Christ and Saints by the School of Marches. It likewise had the State Museum which housed over 5,000 pieces of archaeological finds and historical artifacts — the most interesting was a golden clasp of a mystical princess mysteriously only known under the mononym Domagnano.
Along with the plethora of blooms were quaint fountains with benches, as they provided rest for weary travelers or those who just wanted a brief reprieve. Masterful craftsmanship showed their best once we stopped and stood to appreciate each and every eye-catching structure. From a sweeping vantage spot where we stood, surrounded by fascinating views, we gave thanks for this open-air museum. Yes, the entire country!