High on the top of Monte Titano sits the tiny Republic of San Marino, dominated by three towers which cling to the cliff edge. Its independent government dates back to 1243 and clever alliances with powerful states and nations has enabled it to remain a recognised Republic. 2 Captains Regent and 60 council members form the parliament which meets in the Public Palace and a ceremonial changing of the guard takes place outside it during the summer months.
The sheer cliffs and fortified walls and towers protected San Marino from attacks for hundreds of years. However the onslaught of tourists, a large number of whom are Russian, is now welcomed and assisted with a cable car and a sequence of lifts to reach the main attractions.
I leave early, before the tourist coaches arrive and set off along the walls to reach the most westerly Third Tower. It is a pleasant cobbled walk through oak forest with vertiginous views down the cliff face and the only other people about are a couple of masochistic mountain bikers. There’s no obvious entrance to the single tower which was formerly used as a prison.
The Second Tower was built at the highest point of Monte Titano over the remains of a Roman fortress. Inside I find the Museum of Ancient Weapons; cases of chain mail, lances and pistols. Most is authentic, though some have been recently recognised as well-produced, fakes.
Descending down to the First Tower, I pass the first coachloads of Japanese and Russian visitors struggling up the slope. The souvenir cabins are opening and the owners are trying to get their first sale of the day. Some of the tourists are posing on the cliff edge with their selfie sticks trying to capture the views out to the eastern coastline.
The First Tower is the largest and most interesting of the three. It’s a great place to explore all the ramparts, outposts, prisons and the highest point which has to be reached by way of a steep staircase and metal ladder. Children will love it but nervous parents may not.
My tower visits are part of a combined museum ticket which also gives me entrance to the Public Palace. It seems tiny from the outside, but within is some stunning architecture and I am even able to enter the parliament room.
The State Museum has some interesting exhibits, including the Treasure of Domagnano which is actually a reproduction of the 5th century jewels now scattered in museums of several countries. One original piece does remain in San Marino, though it seems quite dull in comparison to the newer version. Another room features medals and coins. Until 2002, San Marino produced its own currency, but now it uses the euro. However, it still mints its own coins and a San Marino euro makes for a nice souvenir.
The symbol of San Marino is the 3 Towers and when I visit the St Francis Art Gallery, I discover a delightful ceramics exhibition with plates, vases and other items featuring this emblem. However, I also discover that San Marino is actually bigger than I first realised. Other symbols represent the additional eight Castelli, the low lying districts that were mostly annexed to San Marino in 1463.