How did San Marino get its Name?
It is believed that Marinus, a Christian stonemason seeking refuge from religious persecution on Mount Titano, founded the state. The story goes that shortly after Marinus was ordained a Deacon, in nearby Rimini, he was accused by an insane woman of being her estranged husband. So he fled to Mount Titano, to build a chapel and a monastery and live as a hermit. From this community, the State of San Marino later grew. Marinus was venerated to Saint Marinus by both the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. The State’s national holiday is celebrated on his feast day/memorial day, September 3rd, commemorating the day in 301 AD when he founded what became known as San Marino.
Where is San Marino Located?
San Marino is an enclave located on the slopes of Mount Titano, on the Adriatic side of central Italy between the Emilia-Romagna and Marche regions. It is landlocked and wholly surrounded by Italy. It is one of the few remaining city-states that proliferated across Europe. It has the distinction of being the world’s oldest sovereign state and constitutional republic ever recorded. San Marino is Europe’s third smallest state and the world’s fifth smallest, after the Vatican, Monaco, Nauru and Tuvalu. The whole Republic of San Marino is only 23.63 square miles. The highest point of Mount Titano is 2457 feet above sea level and there are no bodies of water of any significant size.
A Brief History of San Marino
In the earliest days of its existence, its de facto independence was maintained because it was an inaccessible city state with no wealth to speak of and therefore absorbing it would be more trouble than it was worth. So it was largely left untouched by the Romans and later the neighboring states. In 1631, the Papal States which surrounded San Marino, formally recognized her independence. This has lasted until the present day, despite being at times surrounded by a war zone. Napoleon even left it alone because it was the oldest constitutional republic. Garibaldi who was responsible for Italy’s unification granted San Marino’s wish to remain independent largely due to it being a safe haven for pro-unification refugees in the days leading up to unification.
During World War II, in 1944, San Marino was briefly occupied by German soldiers before they were run out by allied soldiers.
As of 2002, San Marino has used the Euro as its currency and does not have border patrol. You can, however, pay to get a passport stamp at the tourism office, along with much sought after stamps.
The government of San Marino is unlike any other nation. It does not have a prime minister or a king or a president. For the head of state, they actually are headed by two Captain Regents, which are usually from two different parties. They are voted in by the Grand and General Council, which is where the true power lies. The people elect the 60 council members who serve a five year term. The practice of having dual rulers had been an old practice of Roman overlords, which they decided to retain, as it worked so well for them.
San Marino Culture
The people of San Marino are called Sammarinese. They speak Italian. The Republic is densely populated, with about 530 people per square mile. The total population is around 33,000. They take great pride in their heritage and roots, which can be traced back to ancient Rome.
Everything in San Marino has Italian features, from food, to fashion sense. Like Italy, San Marino is a staunch Roman Catholic territory. Over 95% of Sammarinese go to catholic churches and celebrate the customs and traditions set by the Vatican.
The Sammarinese also love their sports, especially soccer, basketball and volleyball. Each of these sports has their own league but of the three, soccer is by far the most popular. They also are fanatical about Formula One racing. There used to be a San Marino Grand Prix that was held in Imola, Italy. In 2007 the government decided to stop holding the race due to the bitter memories of the legendary Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger who both died at the San Marino Grand Prix races.
Despite living on a mountain slope the Sammarinese take pride in their healthy foods and long life span. On average the Sammarinese, who have lived their lives in San Marino, have an average life span of 80 years.
Tourism is most important to San Marino’s GDP. They welcome about 2 million visitors each year in their tiny Republic.
San Marino Cuisine
It is no surprise that Sammarinese cuisine takes its cues from Italy. It has a Mediterranean flair emphasizing fresh and locally grown produce, Italian pasta and meats. It is most similar to the Romagna region, where many dishes are shared. Yet the Sammarinese do have their own dishes as well. Faglioni con le cotiche, is a soup that is made with Christmas beans and bacon. Pasta e cece has chickpea noodles flavored with rosemary and garlic. The Sammarinese are well known for their cheese making and olive oil pressing skills. In fact, they had three exhibitions at the Paris world fair back in 1899.
Meals and the enjoyment of food is a large part of Sammarinese culture. They also are very proud of their three towers, located on the three peaks of Monte Titano. So it is not surprising that they named their desserts after them. Torta Titano and Torta tre Monte, are just a couple of cakes inspired by them.
Of course wine is also prevalent in the region. San Marino produces cask-aged, red and white wines. They serve a Brugneto or Tessano, which are red wines, when red meat is on the menu. If the main course is white meat or fish, Biancale or Roncale, which are white, are served.
So let’s enjoy a Sammarinese meal:
We decorated with the colors of the San Marino flag; blue and white. I placed three candles to represent the three towers of Monte Titano, along with oak and laurel branches that are on their Coat of Arms. A cross and a stone completed the scene.
We began our meal by saying, “Saluti” which means, “Cheers” as we toasted our glasses filled with Prosecco (an Italian sparkling wine.) We savored our first course which was little pieces of toast with soft, creamy, burrata cheese. (Burrata cheese is a fresh mozzarella stuffed with cream.) It was topped with avocado and red onion and drizzled with a balsamic glaze.
Our next course was an Italian egg drop soup that is very popular in the region. It is called Stracciatella Alla Romana. Stracciatella, translated means, “little shred” which is how the egg looks in the soup when you stir them in. The soup is light and refreshing and very customary to serve when someone is feeling a bit under the weather. We enjoyed it with Italian bread sticks.
For the main course, we had two dishes. One was called Swallows Nest Pasta or Nidi di Rondine, in Italian. They call it that because of the way the pasta is rolled up and somewhat resembles a nest. The best part is how it tastes! A large pasta noodle smothered with a béchamel sauce then topped with two types of cheese, a piece of prosciutto, rolled up and topped with a marinara sauce and more cheese. The dish was baked and we loved it. It also is just as good (or even a little better) the next day, like many pasta dishes are.
For our second entre´, I decided to serve a more adventurous dish, which was roast rabbit and fennel. I was thrilled to have guests joining me for this meal and knew they would enjoy something out of the ordinary. The rabbit did not disappoint. I was able to find the rabbit in my local Asian market’s frozen section and then had to look up how to cut it up. It was similar to cutting up a chicken by cutting in between the joints. At any rate, one rabbit is pretty small for four people, so I was glad we were already pretty full from the other dishes. The rabbit was enjoyed and the flavoring with the onions and fennel was lovely and made my kitchen smell incredible.
For dessert, we devoured the Torta Tre Monti. It is considered to be the national dish of San Marino. It is layers of waffled wafers that has Nutella or traditionally a hazelnut cream between each one and chocolate icing on the sides. It was topped with a dark chocolate cherry gelato. It was a lovely combination, enjoyed with a little espresso. “Magnifico!”
As we say goodbye to this tiny Republic of San Marino, I leave you with a legend which says that the creation of Mount Titano, on which stands the city of San Marino, was due to terrible giants called Titans. They were the nephews of the god, Saturn, uncle of Zeus, who was on Olympus. The Titans decided to attack him while he was sleeping and to scale the sky they began to accumulate boulders placing them on top of each other, but Zeus was warned and made them fall to the earth. Consequently, there remained only the mountain made of rocks. For this reason, it was called “Titan”.
Until next time,
“Arrivederci,” (Farewell in Italian)