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San Marino: A Small, Proud Republic in Italy

San Marino, Italy

Located east of Florence, the mountainous little country of San Marino — where Garibaldi, who pushed for Italian unification, hid from his enemies — has three castles, touristy shops, low taxes (which fuel Italian tourism), and a passion for archery and pageantry.

Complete Video Script

The Republic of San Marino brags it's the world's oldest and smallest republic. It's remained sovereign through almost all its 1,700-year history. San Marino's isolated location has helped it maintain its independence. The 24-square-mile country clings bravely to Monte Titano, in Italy's rugged Apennine Mountains.

A thousand years ago, Italy was made up of dozens of independent little states like this. Over the centuries, virtually all of them disappeared from the map. First, Europe's dominant royal families snatched up these tiny territories, and added them to their vast kingdoms. Then, in the 19th century, Italy’s unification movement consolidated virtually the entire Italian peninsula into the modern nation of Italy.

San Marino survived because of Giuseppe Garibaldi. A leader of the Italian unification movement, Garibaldi hid from his enemies here in San Marino. In appreciation, Garibaldi allowed San Marino to remain independent.

Perched above the old town are San Marino's three characteristic castles. This trio of fortresses has done its part to keep San Marino free and independent over the centuries. A ridge-top trail connects the fortresses.

Since the 1960s tourism has brought prosperity — and along with it, streets of tacky shops. About half the country's economy is based on tourism.

As in other tiny states, quirky laws and tax regulations are used to stoke the economy. As sales tax is half what it is in surrounding Italy, shoppers have long come here for the savings.

Several of Europe's tiny countries produce their own stamps and coins — much sought after by collectors.

Rick: Buongiorno.
Woman: Buongiorno.
Rick: A stamp for my passport please.
Woman: Yes.

And for a fee, they'll even stamp your passport.

The town's focal point is the long, balcony-like Piazza della Libertà, with sweeping views over the realm. The statue depicting Liberty — wearing a crown with the three castle towers — celebrates this country's passion for independence and democracy.

The Palazzo Pubblico, or “Palace of the People,” is guarded by some of San Marino's tiny security force, in their distinctive uniforms.

A modest stairway leads to the room from where the country is governed. Paintings remind legislators of its long history and the saint who's considered the father of this little nation.

In about the year 300, Marino, a stone cutter from present-day Croatia, fled persecution from the Roman Emperor. He found refuge here, on Monte Titano and decided to stay and help the community of other fleeing Christians. He was made a saint for his efforts, and remains the patron saint of this country to this day.

From this lofty perch, San Marino's soldiers have defended their homeland — with the latest in military technology. Ever since a key victory back in the 15th century, the crossbowmen of San Marino have been a part of state celebrations.

Traditionally, this forced the marksmen to stay sharp and keep their crossbows in good working order. While today it's mostly an excuse to show off for tourists, their sport is still taken seriously. The marksmen hit their target with armor-piercing force — illustrating the pride of nation with a long if not mighty heritage.

As if celebrating their bulls-eyes, the San Marino Crossbowman Federation enlivens their mountain top republic with traditional fanfare.

[Crossbowman performing]

San Marino takes you back to the age of city states, an era of pageantry, pride and fierce independence. Further north lays another pint-sized country that is tucked away not on a hill — but in the mighty Alps.