Friday 21st May 2010, Republic of San Marino
We are seeking temporary sanctuary from Italian officialdom in the gloriously independent Republic of San Marino. It claims to be the oldest republic in the world (Iceland might dispute this) and sits high on the hillside some miles inland from the holiday resort of Rimini on the Italian Adriatic coast. This is one of the best campsites we've found since crossing to mainland Italy, not least because they didn't even want to see our passports! Add to that free wifi, hot water, loo seats and fresh bread available from 8am and you are pretty near to Paradise!
It has been an interesting day though not quite what we'd expected. This morning we made our way down from the rural hills of the Marche area, to the coast at Pesaro. As we neared the Adriatic the traffic increased and driving styles changes, reminding me why I had vowed never to drive in Italy again! Along the crowded coastal area drivers are quite aggressive and suddenly we have had traffic tail-gating us, hooting, driving and parking recklessly and selfishly.
Near the hospital in Pesaro we parked and walked into the town centre. We found it a pleasant place and in many ways a relief not to be completely enveloped by an historic city full of sublime architecture.
Pesaro is where the composer Rossini was born in 1792. It lies at the mouth of the Foglia valley amidst vines and fruit trees. Generally it's a very pleasant town with a good mix of buildings, ancient and modern. The Cathedral has a lovely medieval brick façade though inside it is in complete contrast in neo-classical style. Beneath the floor, visible through inserted glass windows, there are several beautiful sixth-century mosaics from an earlier Christian church.
Having crossed Italy from the Tyrrhenian Sea we walked down to the beach on the Adriatic coast to complete our journey. No big deal really. Italy is less than a couple of hundred miles wide and it had taken us a week to get here with so many fascinating distractions along the way!
By the sea we discovered a delightful building in a very different style, dating from the early 20th century. There was also a modern fountain bringing the town right up to date.
We stopped for coffee and pizza, both served cold and indifferent, at a seaside cafe before returning to explore the rest of the town. Ian spent ages dragging me through the back streets following the signs to a sixteenth century Synagogue which we never found. Passing for the third time down the same street I reflected on the story of the Wandering Jew. He too was probably looking for the synagogue in Pesaro!
We found the main piazza with the Ducal Palace to one side. Nearby we called in to look around an exhibition by an extremely gifted worker in wood, Professor Giorgio Stefanini. It covered a lifetime of work and ranged from superb large scale marquetry depicting such harrowing scenes as concentration camps, to carved models of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza accompanied by a triptych depicting some of the adventures in which Don Quixote became involved. There was also a model of Noah's Ark using a range of inlaid woods, various crucifixions and biblical scenes, Aztec and Mayan Gods and a human sized Pinocchio with an interchangeable nose so that it could be made longer when he told more lies. There was far, far more and it was stunningly well executed. The artist came to chat. We explained we were English and did not speak Italian. The fact that Ian could explain that was sufficient for him to launch into a detailed explanation of his work as he showed us around and explained each exhibit, including the way he's made Christ's halo whirl around and Odysseus's ship rock at the slightest breeze. He demonstrated the special covers he'd made to hide the stigmata of the model of Padre Pio he'd carved and the articulated finger joints of a mediaeval knight holding his weapons. There was such skill and humour in his work and he was a delightful and charming man. He talked to us non-stop for at least thirty minutes. Sometimes we understood but most of the time it was too fast and complicated. From time to time he'd ask if we understood but didn't seem to mind when we said not much. At the end he asked us to sign his book and shook us by the hand, asking if we were likely to be around in a few days time to come to the closing party of the exhibition! We left exhausted with concentrating so hard but amazed we'd understood so much. Certainly Ian would be speaking Italian in no time if we were here longer and actually learnt a bit of grammar. It certainly sounds very attractive when it comes out as a flood of explanation rather than just the odd sentence heard in a shop.
Early afternoon we left the town to turn northwards. This was as far south as our travels would be taking us on this trip. Somehow we took a very wrong turn ending up in broken rural lanes leading nowhere. On our return to the town to pick up the correct route we were stopped by a police woman in a luminous jacket with a red lollipop – her badge of office as a traffic controller. She was quite terrifying, signalling to me to stop, go back, move over, turn round etc. Meanwhile Italian drivers skirted round us and they too had to be chased back. None of the drivers seemed to have any idea what it was all about and chaos reigned. She even opened the door of one car with the temerity to try to pass her, shouting and gesticulating so that the cowering driver reversed so quickly he almost rammed another vehicle trying to sneak past on the inside!
We managed a three point turn and drove off, as directed, the wrong way up a one way street. There was nothing to do but wait until she allowed us to pass. Parking and returning on foot we discovered crowds gathered along the roadside while every few minutes police motorbikes drove past, interspersed with ambulances and police cars. For thirty minutes all traffic was at a standstill and the police lady's red lollypop never stopped waving. She was quite frightening. Who could be coming? This was no more than a seaside resort on the Adriatic but such road blocks and chaos could surely only mean the Pope of Silvio Burlesconi, or possibly Carla Bruni! It turned out to be something far more important to your average Italian. With a scream of sirens, dozens of police outriders and several police cars, hundreds of lycra-clad cyclist streamed past on the Tour of Italy cycle race! They were followed by countless cars loaded with spare bikes and parts. As the crowds cheered them through they swept past and disappeared from view. The policewoman let fall her lollipop, exhausted but her job well done. Cars were everywhere, facing in all directions where she'd forced us off the road.
Once order had been restored we continued along the coast towards Rimini, turning off to visit Gradara. A small mediaeval town that is said to have remained unchanged for hundreds of years. Unchanged that is except for the souvenir shops, bars, restaurants and expensive car parks. It's also much cleaner and smarter than a small Italian town would normally be. None-the-less it is a very pleasant little brick-built town, its walls and ramparts intact. Inside the fortress we found the rooms furnished in mediaeval style and lovely vistas over the rolling green countryside. It is in this castle that Gianni Malatesta is said to have murdered his wife, Francesca di Rimini. The story is mentioned in Dante's Divine Comedy and inspired an overture by Tchaikovsky.
We continued along the coast to Riccione. It turned out to be an endless sprawl of holiday apartments and camp sites with little of interest except the strip of sand along the shore. Neither of us thought it worth stopping and parking would have been difficult. So we continued through to turn off up into the hills to the Republic of San Marino – we calculate the 33rd European country we have visited with Modestine. It covers an area roughly the same size as Lake Trasimeno. The road in and out was packed in both directions and we feared it would be rather like our visit to Andorra. We found the campsite we were seeking very easily. A bus passes nearby so tomorrow we can leave Modestine here and take the bus up into the town of San Marino to explore. Ian has already been off to pester the staff here for special San Marino postage stamps and has returned triumphantly clutching a few. Who says philately will get you nowhere?
Saturday 22nd May 2010, Republic of San MarinoToday's account is written by Ian.
This morning we were up and away to see San Marino, little more than a village, but the capital of the mini- republic. Completely surrounded by Italy, San Marino is one of those quirks of history which makes Europe such a fascinating continent. Only about five miles square, it is governed by two Captains Regent, appointed for a period of six months by the Great and General Council, which is made up of sixty members elected every five years. As the ten boroughs which constitute the country account for only about 32,000 inhabitants in all, each council member represents little more than 500 individuals. The offices of the government are scattered liberally around the tiny capital in self-important buildings with grand-sounding titles on the walls.
The bus from the campsite wound up and up, providing wonderful views, both of Monte Titano crowned by its three towers, which feature on the heraldic arms of the nation, and of the surrounding hills, covered in fields and woodlands which undulated for miles down to the sea at Rimini and inland to the peaks of the Apennines. We were dropped outside one of the gates of the town where a policeman in Ruritanian costume stopped the traffic with a series of solemnly executed semaphore signals to allow the hoards of tourists across the road into the city. It was immediately clear what sustains this little state, perched remotely on the top of a jagged limestone mountain. The streets which wound ever upwards were lined with shops crammed with every kind of tourist fodder. You could buy packs of San Marino stamps and Euros (and those of other mini-states such as Monaco and Vatican City), jewellery, handbags, suitcases, bottles of alcoholic beverages in the shape of Italy or with labels depicting Mussolini, Hitler or Stalin and, in particular, shop after shop selling knives, blow-guns with needle-sharp darts, swords and a wide range of replica gas-powered weapons: revolvers, rifles, machine guns.
Picking our way past these we made our way up to the three towers aligned along the top of the ridge. They date from the 14th century and form part of an extensive series of fortifications. On the opposite side to the town the rocks drop sheer for 100 metres or more and the towers are linked by a pleasant footpath through woodland, almost deserted as the bulk of the tourists never make it past the shops, restaurants and ice-cream parlours.
Eventually hunger drove us down to the town. We ate pizza slices on the hoof and dropped in to a restaurant for two very expensive coffees and a very dry pastry. San Marino does not have a cathedral of its own, but its patron saint is commemorated in a neo-classical basilica. San Marinus was driven from Dalmatia to Rimini by the persecutions of Diocletian. In 301 he built a refuge on Monte Titano and the republic is supposed to date from then, although there are no written records before 885 and the Captains Regent are first mentioned in 1243. The bed carved in the rock that he is supposed to have used can be seen in the little church of Saint Peter next to the basilica. We also visited the simple church of the Capucins where Garibaldi’s soldiers were billeted when he took refuge there in 1849. The republic survived over the centuries by deftly allying itself to the appropriate surrounding powers. It extended its boundaries in 1320 and for the last time in 1463 after San Marino won a war against the Malatestas of Rimini, thanks to the support of the Papal States and the Duke of Montefeltro. Napoleon recognised its independence and its boundaries were confirmed by the Congress of Vienna. It was never absorbed into Italy and remained neutral in World War 2 when it gave refuge from persecution to some 100,000 people. Nevertheless the allies managed to bombard the town in 1944, causing considerable destruction.
So, the little state is justifiable proud of having defended the cause of liberty over the centuries and it revels in pomp and circumstance, supposedly changing the guard not just once a day but every hour. We waited hopefully outside the Public Palace on the Piazza della Liberta at the due time, but not a guard could be seen. Eventually one emerged through the door, put away his mobile phone and condescended to be photographed with scantily clad tourists. Any change-over of duties had been effected far from the public gaze.
The national library was closed but we visited the State Museum, which has some interesting archaeological finds and pictures taken from the former monastery of Santa Chiara and other religious institutions in the republic, but there were also many donations that had no local significance. In part of the monastery of Santa Chiara we found an interesting Museum of Emigration set up by the Centre for Emigration Studies of the University of San Marino. It shed light on the social conditions before the rise of the tourist industry which led to the emigration of more than 12,000 inhabitants in the later 19th and first half of the 20th centuries. The economy was basically agrarian and was adversely affected by the fall in the price of wheat. The main destination was France until about 1930, followed by the USA, then, when the doors to those countries were closed, Italy and in the late 1930s, Germany. There was a return by many people from the 1960s when the economy recovered but there are still some 25 associations of Sammarinese around the world. Much of the information came from an analysis of passports records completed by personal testimony and family records and photographs. It is an aspect of San Marino that not many tourists see - certainly we were the first to have looked round the museum that day, and we arrived at three in the afternoon.
The bus down from the city runs every two hours until 6.30pm. After a day in the hot sunshine climbing the steep streets of the city and walking the ramparts we decided not to wait for the very last bus. Nowhere however could we find a bus stop! We'd been dropped at the city gates this morning and assumed we'd pick up the return bus there. We sought assistance from a passing bus driver with an empty bus. It turned out to be a different number and location altogether. Never mind, he cheerfully told us. Jump in and I'll run you down the hill in time to catch it. That at least was the gist of it we think. Several streets below the town he drew up beside the bus we needed and passed us into the safe care of the driver. The way back to the campsite was a permanent winding descent. How can bus drivers cope going up and down all day, encountering tourist vehicles and coaches on every hairpin bend?