11 Facts You Never Knew About San Marino

One of the three fortress towers in The Republic of San Marino
One of the three fortress towers in The Republic of San Marino | © pavel068 / Shutterstock
Raphaele Varley

This ancient, landlocked city-state in the centre of Italy can’t claim any sporting prowess, but it does boast an excellent diplomatic record and Abraham Lincoln as a fan. These curious anecdotes and more, in our fun fact-file on San Marino.

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It is one of the world’s smallest countries

Geographically, San Marino is 23.6 square miles (61 square kilometres), making it the fifth-smallest country in the world, coming in behind the island nations of Tuvalu, Nauru and other city-states Monaco and the Vatican (Holy See). It has an estimated population of just 33,559. To offer a comparison: the UK has an estimated population of 65.64 million.

It has ancient origins

Archaeological finds suggest there was a settlement from as early as the 5th century BC. San Marino was officially consolidated as a political entity in the late 1200s, during the Age of the Commune.

It has never lost an invasion

The fortified dwelling was subjected to many invasions over the centuries, but always managed to maintain its sovereignty. It withstood attempts by Cesare Borgia in the 1500s and in the 1700s, and even managed to withstand becoming part of the Papal State. Luckily, when the Napoleonic troops arrived in the 18th century, they respected San Marino’s autonomy (and even offered it economic concessions), because it was a political body with a republican government. The old town’s three iconic towers (also on the national crest) stand as a testament to the Republic’s resilience.

One of the three fortress towers in The Republic of San Marino

Former American President Abraham Lincoln is an honourary citizen

Abraham Lincoln expressed his admiration for San Marino in a letter to the Captains Regent in 1861, saying, ‘Although your dominion is small, nevertheless your State is one of the most honoured throughout history…’. In response, they granted him citizenship.

It has offered unconditional political sanctuary throughout the centuries

Apparently, the country has never refused asylum to the persecuted. Most notably, Giuseppe Garibaldi sought safety within the fortress walls of San Marino in 1849, when he found himself surrounded by three enemy armies. Garibaldi later helped ensure San Marino’s exclusion from formal Italian Unification in 1867. San Marino remained neutral during World War II but gave shelter and asylum to 100,000 evacuees from the surrounding areas of Italy that were being bombed.

It was probably the first country in the world to establish a regular postal service

In 1607, a paid postal service was opened to all residents. In 1877, the first postage stamps of the Republic were issued and, since then, San Marino stamps have paid tribute to its cultural and historical events and personalities. Due to the limited production of San Marino stamps, the state has been a big draw for philatelists for hundreds of years. Likewise, for collectors of rare coins.

A San Marino stamp, printed in light of the 18th Olympic Games held in Tokyo, circa 1964

It has two languages

San Marino residents (Sanmarinese) speak Italian and Romagnol, the old dialect of the surrounding Emilia-Romagna region.

It is not a member of the EU or Eurozone, but uses the Euro as its currency

In 1983 it established official relations with the EU but as a ‘Third State’.

It is considered to have the oldest surviving national constitution in the world

The San Marino constitution was drafted in 1600, in Latin, and comprises a series of six books, referred to as The Statutes of 1600. There is scholarly debate as to whether multiple texts can be classified as a constitution, and therefore there is a large academic camp that instead argues that the US constitution is the oldest constitution still in effect.

Palazzo Pubblico in the old town of San Marino

Its first entry in the Olympic Games was Summer 1960

It has since entered 12 Summer Olympics and seven Winter Olympics, but has yet to win a medal. Records suggest that shooting is the nation’s strongest sport, with athletes Francesco Amici and Emanuela Felici coming close to running in the finals in 2004.

It is the least visited country in Europe

In 2017, San Marino received the title of ‘Least Visited Country in Europe‘, after just 60,000 international tourists ventured here.

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