It is almost an obligatory part of my trips to explore the countryside and travel either to a nearby town or village to experience the everyday life of the people within a region. This time such experience was for me my visit to Santarcangelo di Romagna, a charming little town with all the authentic Italian vibes.
Santarcangelo meant one of the most typical and fascinating representations of architecture and probably the most fabulous nature I witnessed during these couple of days I had in Romagna. The town lies in the direct neighborhood of Rimini along two rivers, Marecchia and Fiume Uso surrounded by a breathtaking landscape.
The first important location, where one will arrive, is the main square in the lower town, Piazza Ganganelli. When you get there, you will immediately notice a marvelous triumph arch - however, unlike the Arch of Augustus in Rimini, this monument has almost nothing in common with the ancient Romans in terms of style and historical era.
Arco Ganganelli, in fact, is a beautiful piece of art from the late Baroque period dedicated to Lorenzo Ganganelli, who was born in the town and later became pope under the name Clement XIV. If you look at the top of the arch, you can see an inscription in Latin in the middle and also the papal hat with the crossed keys - symbols of the papacy we already discussed before.
Apart from the arch, it is worth to check the great fontain in the middle of the sqaure called La Fontana della Pigna (Fontain of the Pinecone) which highlists a very interesting cultural usage of this 'flower'.
As I learnt, pinecone is a very popular artistic symbol of fertility in this part of Europe, and you can find plenty of them as statues or motifs not only in Romagna, but all around Italy - and even beyond its borders. For example, there is another Fontana della Pigna close to the Vatican Museums in Rome, but I also saw many of them in Rimini in various places when I started paying attention.
Another pinecone fountain was even standing on Piazza Cavour (check the photo in my previous article about Rimini), but I also spotted one on the boulevard near the beach.
What is more, it is not just something Italian, but after I did a little research on the topic, I realized that indeed I had seen such a monument before in Koper, Slovenia called Fontana Da Ponte, although I did not remember that much due to the dozens of grotesque gargoyles and stone heads I could meet there everywhere.
Walking in the streets of Santarcangelo close to the main square really made me feel a relaxed, cosy and chill atmosphere, where the modern shops, bars and restaurants could coexist with the traditional architecture of the town with all of the colors, flowers, roofs and terraces one could observe all around.
It is especially true in the Upper Town that you can reach by taking some stairs to the castle hill and hang around in the narrow streets around the castle itself (Castello Malatestiano, of course, after the powerful and ambitious local family) which is preserved in an excellent condition, just like the one in Rimini.
It is a pity that I could not enter any of these two castles during my stay, but actually it is a kind of bad luck for me on my trips to meet different renovations and closed museums all the time.That is why it is useful to learn how to improvise and how not to have too many expectations, while you should rather let the place surprise you whatever happens.
Fortunately, a view from the top is always a good choice and is always there for free, and the one above the towers and houses of Santarcangelo is indeed a wonderful sight with all the Mediterranean vibes you need.
As the name of the town suggests, of course, the main church, Chiesa Collegiata di San Michele Arcangelo is dedicated to Archangel St. Michael, defeater of Satan, but it is not the only important religious building in the town.
Not so far from the church, most probably exactly on the peak of the hill there is a slim and tall bell tower called Campanone (sometimes also Torre Civica or Torre Campanaria), and if you walk on the opposite slope of the hill, you will also find a great monostory (a convent, to be precise), which exactly looks like the one from the romantic movies.
This is the Convent of the Capuchin Friars (Convento Frati Cappuccini), which lies in the middle of a mesmerizing landscape and has gorgeous, perfectly green gardens and holdings all around, reaching the distance and the horizon towards the sea.
As it should be, there is a representation of San Francesco di Assisi (who is also the patron saint of Italy) and another one of Padre Pio (also known as Saint Pio of Pietrelcina), whom I remember well from my days in Calabria, where there was even an annual festival dedicated to him. He is probably even more carismatic among the 'modern' saints in some terms than John Paul II (San Giovanni Paolo II).
If one walks in the forests and fields on the other side of the convent hill, the view is not less interesting either, because you can see a huge, lonely mountain in the distance, Monte Titano (Mount Titan), which is gonna be our final destination in a short.
Namely, this mountain is the home of San Marino, one of the smallest, but also wealthiest countries of Europe. It was truly an honor and an extremely lucky situation for me that I was taken by car through enchanting farms and fields and could visit this tiny and beautiful state, which declares to be the oldest republic in the world among the ones still existing today.
San Marino was founded by its namesake, Saint Marinus, a former stonemason and hermit who came from the island of Rab (Dalmatia). He decided to gather the Christians persecuted by emperor Diocletian, who became infamous for torturing and executing Christians (and by the way, also comes from Dalmatia - his palace is one of the main sights of Split/Spalato, Croatia).
The community first existed only among the safe rocks of Mount Titan, but nowadays San Marino also includes the area with the fields and valleys all around the mountain.
The history of San Marino, which began its career as a shelter for Christian refugees, became a real success story: during its centuries, no one could or really wanted to conquer this rocky peak - neither the Roman Empire, the Holy Roman Empire, the Papal State, the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, the Republic of Venice, Napoleon’s army, Garibaldi’s troops nor Mussolini’s fascists.
The reason was partly that it was just not worth to any of these powers to take control over these territories, but it is also true that the professional mercenaries and the excellent fortification system protected San Marino pretty well, not to mention the perfect geographical position of the mountain.
Sammarinese dwellers had their own assembly or council called Arengo, which was based on the structure of the Roman Senate and was also used later in the Middle Ages by the city-states of North-Italy.
Although San Marino is not a member of EU (and officially not even of the Schengen Area), practically its borders are open, since it has always collaborated with Italy.
In terms of education and labor there is an intense (and from the point of view of San Marino kind of inevitable) exchange between the two countries, particularly meaning that most of the young people can attend only the elementary school in San Marino, but then they usually go for high school and university studies somewhere to Italy. On the other hand, Italian citizens can also find a job (mainly in the touristic industry) in San Marino, if they are qualified enough.
It is obvious that there are no significant cultural or linguistic differences, since the official language in San Marino is Italian as well.
To be just and fair, of couse, this land also has its own regional prideand language, so Sammarinese people, which makes sense, speak Sammarinese, which is a dialect or variant of Romagnol (as I explained before, it is also a disputed topic itself, whether it is an independent language or a dialect of Italian, which makes everything even more complicated).
Maybe there are only a few inborn Sammarinese citizens and it is not so easy to become one of them, but they are really proud to come where they come from.
I remember a funny moment when an employee of the castle museum told me and my friends who guarded me that io sono patrimonio ('I am also a world heritage'), which was a logical way of thinking for him, since he was a citizen of San Marino and the centre of the republic is under the protection of the UNESCO world heritage program indeed.
Speaking of the castle, I need to admit that I was not so impressed by anything like that since the times I was visiting castles in Slovenia and Poland.
The walls and bastions of the castle are almost completely intact and shine with their original and whole beauty, which is always a strange time traveling experience for me, since most of the castles in Hungary are destroyed and demolished due to the different Ottoman and Habsburg wars.
While taking a walk on the guarding walls, there was a scary, endless depth under the castle, but at the same time, the more we were climbing upstairs, the clearer picture we could get to the sea and the coastal plain of Romagna.
This enchanting theater play of fields, squares, roads and tiny hills far away gives you the feeling that you are not standing on the top of a mount, but actually you are literally flying in the air.
Maybe Monte Titano is ‘only’ 739 metres high (so shorter than Pohorje for instance), looking at the landscape is like an observation from a plane or a realistic photo made by a satellite. One can indeed feel like an eagle…
Of course, we could also see Rimini in the distance - at least the Panoramic Wheel and the grattacielo (skyscraper) of the city. This core part of the castle was the so-called Rocca (‘rock’) with the Prima Torre (‘First Tower’), while the second and the third one (Terza Torre) was a bit further, outside of the castle museum, meaning that we needed to walk along the ridge towards the other peak of the mount.
I also saw it in the end that traveling by car is not the only option: if you want to travel by public transport, you can take a cable car (funicolare). Since I was taken by car, I did not try it, but if I think about it how it was in Maribor and Barcelona, it must be very fascinating.
The other direction from the castle also had some further surprises in terms of sightseeing: for instance, I certainly had to go to Piazza della Libertà (Liberty Square) where you can see, first of all, dozens of colorful Sammarinese flags, secondly, the statue of an Allegory of Liberty.
Thirdly, there was also a charming view to the blue hills, white valleys and surrounding areas, and last, but not least, there stands Palazzo Pubblico della Repubblica di San Marino: the palace that serves as the parliament building of the country. Of course, there were always some guards at the entrance and it was not an open zone for tourists.
Since San Marino is also one of the oldest Christian countries, it is crucial to talk about some churches. The most important among them is the great Basilica of San Marino, which, unfortunately, I could not see from the inside, although the facade and its columns really impressed me.
Another church though that I could visit was the Church of St. Francis (of course, who else could be), which I also appreciated, because apart from the basilicas of Ravenna and Tempio Malatestiano in Rimini I could not enter so many churches during my trips.
I wish I could also return to San Marino again and have my accommodation there, because as small it looks like in terms of population and size, as many wonders it has, while every meandering, narrow street and corner has plenty of pubs, museums, stores, art exhibitions and various ways of entertainment.
Traveling there, as also in general being in Romagna showed me a different type of localpatriotism, which focused on the fact that one can feel home and belong somewhere regardless the circumstances, and men are able to create a pleasant and welcoming place to live anywhere they want.
As a postscript, I would like to note that my journey to San Marino will be listed among my articles on Italy only due to the obvious cultural and geographical connections to this trip, but of course, I do understand, that even if for an outsider this all would be ‘just Italy’, there are many differences and it means a lot to the local ones to express that they are Sammarinese.
Just like identitity is important for instance for the Szeklers in Transylvania, who would probably be ‘just Hungarians’ for a foreigner, but we know that it is not so fair and respectful to make categories like that. Neither in the case of San Marino.
After more than three weeks I still consider Rimini, Ravenna and San Marino as my greatest series of trips for this year, but not only for the plenty of nostalgia I felt. Also for the endless source of wisdom, nature, spirituality, hospitality and art I could smell in the air and feel in my veins.
I was able to enjoy the journey with my whole heart regardless the fact that sometimes I am concerned about going to worldwide famous and popular places due to the commercial touristic vibes. Well, I can really tell you a lot about Romagna by now, but 'commercial' is never the adjective I would use to describe this brilliant gem of Italy.