San Marino

San Marino is the third smallest independent country in Europe, with only Monaco and Vatican City being smaller in area. It is landlocked within the borders of Italy, and sits on a high limestone ridge overlooking the Adriatic Sea. The country has its own small army, but we don’t know if it has every been conquered by force. Here are some of the really old fortifications along the crest of the ridge:

Hilltop fortress at San Marino.

The old town within San Marino’s city walls contains several nearly level, narrow streets that run in parallel laterally along the slope below the ridge crest, with steep ramps and stairways connect successive levels as you move up the hill. This would be on the back side of the hill you see in the photo above. Souvenir shops, cafes, coffee shops, gun and weapons shops (want to buy a real crossbow?), and other shops line the streets. Most of the shops have apartments on the floors above them, but given the lack of parking and cost of living, it is not clear how many people actually live within the old town walls. A road rally was in progress during our visit, with a lot of small cars trying to navigate the crowds like you see below.

Road rally through the narrow streets; tourists beware!

The view is spectacular from the top of the ridge, and it overlooks the newer parts of San Marino (see photo below). The road up to the old part of town traverses a lot of switchbacks, and if you wanted to defend the high ground, then this was the place for you!

View looking east to the Adriatic Sea from the top of the ridge.

The view to the west was more rugged. We were distracted by the blooming redbud trees, known locally as Judas trees because they bloom each year at Easter. You can’t see it in the next photo, but there looked to be a monastery on top of another ridge to the west, so apparently the founders of San Marino were not the only ones wanting a secure location. This raises a question, though: were would you get water? Maybe cisterns to store runoff from the roofs?

Red bud blooming in front of the view to the west.

Here is one of at least four fortifications along the crest of the ridge. The castles and some of the walls were built of quarried limestone blocks (somewhat uniform dimensions but not smoothly finished), and parts of the walls were made of rough limestone slabs instead of quarried stone. The old cathedral, shops, and other buildings within the walls were built with more attention to shaping and smoothing the stones. I wonder how far it was to the quarries?

Another view of hilltop fortifications.

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