Posts Tagged With: Napoleon

Microstates! The Most Serene Republic of San Marino

The Most Serene Republic of San Marino is the lone relic of what once were scores of city states across Europe in the middle ages. Founded in 301 AD, the country has survived intact for more than 1700 years, withstanding threats by other Italian city states, the Napoleonic Wars, the unification of Italy, and two world wars. It is the oldest republic in the world.

The country is surrounded by Italy and located immediately inland from the Adriatic. Most of the microstate is perched atop the three peaks of a formidable mountain – Monte Titano:

We traveled on Day 2 from Vatican City (or nearby in Rome, anyway) to San Marino. This was the only time during the trip that we would drive directly from one microstate to another without an intermediate stop. Connections during the rest of the trip will require a layover in an Italian, Swiss, or French town (each of were great destinations in their own rights). Our drive out of Rome took us north and east, initially on highways, but for the last enjoyable half hour or so on crazy switchback roads through the Italian countryside to reach San Marino:

Review of the Republic

History: The country is named after Marinus, a stonemason from a Roman province across the Adriatic in what’s now Croatia. According to legend, Marinus traveled in AD 257 to Rimini, a city on the Italian coast, immediately to the east of modern day San Marino, to support rebuilding the city’s walls. Marinus later was ordained as a deacon by the Bishop of Rimini, then fled inland to seek refuge on Monte Titano to escape the third-century Diocletianic Persecution of Christians. He subsequently founded an independent monastic community in AD 301, a date that is recognized as the official year of San Marino’s founding.

By the 12th century, San Marino had developed into a commune ruled by its own statutes and consuls. The country’s isolation atop Mount Titano and its mountain fortresses enabled San Marino to retain its independence despite attacks by the Duke of Rimini and other powerful families and bishops. Although the country originally consisted only of Monte Titano, it grew to include some adjoining towns and castles in 1463, when Pope Pius II granted these in return for its support for a successful alliance against the Duke of Rimini. The country has remained this size ever since, declining an offer of increased territory by Napoleon in the late 18th century. (San Marino’s Regent stated the “Only in poverty and insignificance could San Marino hope to maintain herself free and sovereign through the centuries.”)

Why it still exists: Two reasons: Napoleon and Garibaldi.

  1. The advance of Napoleon’s army in 1797 threatened to absorb San Marino into the rest of recently conquered Northern Italy. One of the country’s two Regents at the time cultivated a friendship with Napoleon and he subsequently promised to protect its independence (Napoleon will make an appearance in Andorra’s history, as well.)
  2. During the Italian unification process in the 19th century, San Marino served as a refuge for Italians persecuted because of their support for unification. In recognition of this support, Giuseppe Garibaldi accepted the wish of San Marino not to be incorporated into the new Italian state. As a result, it has remained an independent country and a medieval time capsule ever since.

Absolute size: 24 square miles

Relative size: San Marino is the third smallest (or third largest – take your pick) of the five European microstates and is slightly larger than the City of Alexandria, at 15 square miles.

Population: 33,562

Capital: City of San Marino

Government: San Marino is the world’s oldest extant sovereign state and is a parliamentary representative democratic republic. The first written mention of San Marino as a republic is in the 9th century. The Captains Regent, an elected pair, serve as San Marino’s heads of state. Both are elected every six months by the Grand and General Council of San Marino. San Marino also sports the earliest written governing documents of any nation – the Constitution of San Marino (Leges Statutae Republicae Sancti Marini), written in Latin in the late 16th century, the constitution dictates the country’s political system.

Tiny state trivia: Here are several cool nuggets:

  • The foundation of San Marino’s army continues to be the Crossbow Corps, which has existed continuously as a statutory military unit since 1295. (Reminiscent of the status of the English longbow in The Mouse that Roared . . .)
  • San Marino is one of only three nations that are enclaved – entirely surrounded by one other country. The other two are Vatican City and Lesotho, in South Africa.
  • In 1861, immediately before our Civil War, the government of San Marino wrote a letter to President Abraham Lincoln, proposing an alliance between the two democratic nations and offering the President honorary San Marino citizenship. Lincoln accepted the offer, writing in reply, “Although your dominion is small, your State is nevertheless one of the most honored in all history. It has, by its experience, demonstrated the truth, so full of encouragement to the friends of Humanity, that Government founded on Republican principles is capable of being so administered as to be secure and enduring.”

A view of Mount Titano as we near San Marino.


Sign in town demonstrating the mountainous nature of San Marino via its twisting, switchback roads (the country’s three fortifications appear here, as well):

Hiking up to the Cesta tower (the middle of the three), with a view from Mount Titano to the Adriatic:

Guaita Tower from one of the rooms in the Cesta Tower, which was built in the 13th century atop the remains of a Roman fort:

Iconic image of Guaita Tower directly above the town of San Marino on Mount Titano:

Heading up to Guaita Tower:

Guiata Tower was originally constructed in the 11th century, then reinforced in the 15th century as protection against the House of Malatesta that ruled Rimini and had designs on San Marino:

San Marino’s public square with their Statue of Liberty:

Palazzo Pubblico, San Marino’s capital building:

The founding father himself, perched on the right corner of the city hall:

Inside the Palazzo Pubblico, featuring multiple instances of the country’s coat of arms, which feature the three towers (each topped with an ostrich plume – we still have no idea why):

The country was holding a medieval festival while we were there, so there was a lot of this going on:

The kid’s definitely diggin’ it:

Freakin’ awesome views at lunch . . .

and from our craptastic hotel (albeit with a sweet balcony overlooking the countryside):

View of the Cesta Tower from the same location:

View into town from our balcony (three ways):

San Marino’s public square at night – quite the crowd!

And some outdoor concert action:

Two down, three to go!

Categories: Micronations!, San Marino | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Microstates! The Principality of Andorra

From Carcassonne, we headed south to our final microstate – the Principality of Andorra, which is squeezed between France and Spain in the heart of the Pyrenees:

As noted in our initial summary post for this trip, the existence of Andorra prompted our micronation fascination and – ultimately – this trip.

Principality Précis:

Here’s one view of the principality through a series of quotes from our much loved and candor-filled Cadogan Catalonia guide:

  • “The Principat de les Valles de Andorra, as it is officially known, is an independent historical oddity in the manner of Grand Fenwick and the Marx Brothers’ Fredonia, a Catalan-speaking island of mountains measuring 468 square kilometers that has managed to steer clear of the French and Spanish since its foundation by Charlemagne.”
  • “They’ve turned their lovely corner of the Pyrenees into a single garish supermarket. It’s a worthy competitor for Europe’s other Ruritanian craphole, San Marino, which, if you’ve never been, is the first country in the world to be entirely paved over with factory outlet car parks.”
  • “It’s a sleazy little paradise, Andorra.”

Sheesh! We’d see about that during our visit.

History: From multiple sources, each linked from the end quotes: “After the death of Charlemagne, the Carolingian Empire fell into divisive territorial quarrels, and Andorra fell into the rule of the Count Of Urgell, one of the powerful families of the Spanish nobility. In 1133 the Count of Urgell ceded the lands to the Bishop of Urgell.

In 1159 Andorra became the subject of a prolonged struggle between the Count of Foix and the Bishop of Urgell. Although an agreement was signed that year which recognized the Bishop’s authority while ceding certain rights to the Count of Foix, the dispute lasted through many bloody, bitter battles until 1278 when Roger Bernard (Count of Foix) and Father d’Urtx (Bishop of Urgell) signed a peace treaty forced upon them by the King of Aragon.

This treaty, and another signed eleven years later, established that Andorra would become independent, but pay an annual tribute called questia. To whom the tribute went alternated every year; first to the Count of Foix, then to the Bishop of Urgell, then the Count of Foix, etc. This agreement, called the Pareage is still the basis of Andorra’s constitution and political independence.

“Over the years, the title to Andorra passed from the Counts of Foix to the Kings of Navarre. After King Henry III of Navarre became King Henry IV of France, he decreed in 1607 the King of France and the Bishop of Urgell were the co-princes of Andorra. Later through revolutions and counter-revolutions France became a republic and today the French President and Bishop of Urgell serve as the co-princes of Andorra.

Why it still exists: “If both Urgell and Foix had ended under the same realm, Andorra would have probably been absorbed into it. But history didn’t go that way: Urgell was absorbed first into the county of Barcelona, later the crown of Aragon and finally Spain (if we don’t count some historical oddities like Napoleon’s empire, when Catalonia was part of France, or the ephemeral Catalan republics); Foix became part of Navarre and later of the kingdom of France. So, in short, the current heads of state of Andorra are the bishop of Urgell and the president of the French republic, and thus both Spain and France have the obligation of militarily protecting Andorra. Which means that neither Spain or France will let the other absorb Andorra.

Absolute size: 181 square miles

Relative size: Largest of the European microstates, but still the 16th-smallest nation in the world and smaller than Fairfax County (at 400 square miles).

Population: 77,281; world’s 11th-smallest country by population

Capital: Andorra la Vella (the highest capital in Europe)

Government. “Andorra has two ‘co-princes,’ the Count of Foix in France and the bishop of La Seu d’Urgell in Spain. In 1589, the Count of Foix, Henry of Navarre, was crowned King of France and became Henry IV, and the county became a holding of the Kingdom of France.  According to an agreement spelled out in 1278, in odd-numbered years the French co-prince is sent 1,920 francs in tribute, while in even-numbered years the Spanish co-prince receives 900 pesetas, 12 chickens, six hams and 12 cheeses. Napoleon thought it was quaint and left it alone, he said, as a living museum of feudalism.

Tiny state trivia:

  • Andorra declared war on Germany at the breakout of WW I, but never participated in the conflict itself, nor attended the peace conference at Versailles in 1918. As a result, they were still technically at war with Germany through WW II and until 1957, when the country issued a peace declaration.
  • Andorra is the world’s only co-principality
  • Andorra has never had a national bank nor any national currency
  • The country has not been in a war in more than 1000 years

Enough of that – on to the day’s trip.

Our trip planning to head a little out of our way to Carcassonne between Monaco and Andorra provided us with a significant historical benefit. We’d be traveling right by the town and fortress of Foix, where one of Andorra’s co-princes once ruled. (Also, as a total non sequitur, notice the little yellow kidney-shaped area to the east of Andorra? That’s Llivia, the Spanish town stuck inside France that caught our interest last year during Catalonia’s clamor for independence from Spain.)

Our stop in Foix was the highlight of the day – cool town, even cooler castle, and a market was in full swing in the center of town:

Made-to-order latkes – perfect starter for our lunch:

A little traveling entertainment while we snacked:

A quick visit to Fanjeaux, another Cathar hill town between Carcassonne and Andorra:

Across the border and traveling through the valleys of the Andorran Pyrenees:

One of the cool things about the isolated country is the preservation of so many medieval Romanesque churches, which would have been rebuilt as shitty, gaudy Gothic or Renaissance structures in other countries. Below is the perfectly Romanesque church of San Joan de Caselles encountered on the way to Andorra la Vella, the principality’s capital. The church dates 11th or 12th century and features the typical architectural layout of the Romanesque churches in Andorra: rectangular nave with wooden roof, semi-circular apse and Lombardian style bell tower.

Wandering in Andorra la Vella to Casa de la Vall, home to the Consell de la Terra – the General Council of Andorra (which the Andorran’s generously refer to as a “parliament”). The Consell de la Terra founded in 1419, one of Europe’s oldest continuous parliaments.

Casa de la Vall was built in 1580 as a manor and tower defense by the Busquets family. In 1702 it was acquired by the Consell de la Terra for its current use.

Um . . .

Signage in downtown Andorra la Vella reinforcing Andorra’s geopolitical situation:

Someone’s gotta watch over the town:

Views over developed Andorra la Vella:

The 12th-century, Romanesque Església de Sant Esteve in the middle of Andorra la Vella:

Statue of Princep Benlloch in front of Església de Sant Esteve. “Joan Benlloch was named Bishop of Urgell on 6 December 1906; in this position, he was also Co-Prince of Andorra. . . His tenure saw his country enter World War I on the side of the Allies, but Andorra was not included in the Treaty of Versailles and officially remained in a state of belligerency until 1957.

Another awesome hotel pool in which to unwind with a few drinks in the late afternoon – this one built into Pyreneean granite on the mountain:

Trip target finally achieved in Andorra, the microstate that started it all: completion of visits to all five European microstates in a single road trip!

The only thing left now is a brief morning drive southeast to Barcelona to spend a little time there before our flight out the day after.

Categories: Andorra, Micronations! | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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