The town and republic of St. Marino stands on the top of a very high and craggy mountain. It is generally hid among the clouds, and lay under snow when I saw it, though it was clear and warm weather in all the country about it. There is not a spring or fountain, that I could hear of, in the whole dominions; but they are always well provided with huge cisterns and reservoirs of rain and snow water. The wine that grows on the sides of their mountain is extraordinarily good, ‘much better than any I met with on the cold side of the Apennines.
This mountain, and a few neighboring hillocks that lie scattered about the bottom of it, is the whole circuit of these dominions. They have what they call three castles, three convents, and five churches and can reckon about five thousand souls in their community. The in-habitants, as well as the historians who mention this little republic, give the following ac-count of its origin. St. Marino was its founder, a Dalmatian by birth, and by trade a mason. He was employed above thirteen hundred years ago in the reparation of Rimini, and after he had finished his work, retired to this solitary mountain, as finding it very proper for the life of a hermit, which he led in the greatest rigors and austerities of religion. He had not been long here before he wrought a reputed miracle, which, joined with his extra-ordinary sanctity, gained him so great an esteem, that the princess of the country made him a present of the mountain, to dispose of at his own discretion. His reputation quickly peopled it, and gave rise to the republic which calls itself after his name.
So that the commonwealth of Marino may boast, at least, of a nobler original than that of Rome, the one having been at first an asylum for robbers and murderers, and the other a resort of persons eminent for their piety and devotion. The best of their churches is dedicated to the saint, and holds his ashes. His statue stands over the high altar, with the figure of a mountain in its hands, crowned with three castles, which is likewise the arms of the commonwealth. They attribute to his protection the long duration of their state, and look on him as the greatest saint next the blessed virgin. I saw in their statute book a law against such as speak disrespectfully of him, who are to be punished in the same manner as those convicted of blasphemy.
This petty republic has now lasted thirteen hundred years, while all the other states of Italy have several times changed their masters and forms of government. Their whole history is comprised in two purchases, which they made of a neighboring prince, and in a wax in which they assisted the pope against a lord of Rimini. In the year 1100 they bought a castle in the neighborhood, as they did another in the year 1170. The papers of the conditions are preserved in their archives, where it is very remarkable that the name of the agent for the commonwealth, of the seller, of the notary, and the witnesses, are the same in both the instruments, tho drawn up at seventy years’ distance from each other. Nor can it be any mistake in the date, because the popes’ and emperors’ names, with the year of their respective reigns, are both punctually set down. About two hundred and ninety years after this they assisted Pope Pius the Second against one of the Malatestas, who was then lord of Rimini; and when they had helped to conquer him, received from the pope, as a reward for their assistance, four little castles. This they represent as the flourishing time of the commonwealth, when their dominions reached half-way up a neighboring hill; but at present they are reduced to their old extent.
The chief officers of the commonwealth are the two capitaneos, who have such a power as the old Roman consuls had, but are chosen every sit months. I talked with some that had been capitaneos six or seven times, tho the office is never to be continued to the same persons twice successively. The third officer is the commissary, who judges in all civil and criminal matters. But because the many alliances, friendships, and intermarriages, as well as the personal feuds and animosities, that happen among so small a people might obstruct the course of justice, if one of their own number had the distribution of it, they have always a foreigner for this employ, whom they choose for three years, and maintain out of the public stock. He must be a doctor of law, and a man of known integrity. He is joined in commission with the capitaneos, and acts something like the recorder of London under the lord mayor. The commonwealth of Genoa was forced to make use of a foreign judge for many years, while their republic was torn into the divisions of Guelphs and Gibelines. The fourth man in the state is the physician, who must likewise be a stranger, and is maintained by a public salary. He is obliged to keep a horse, to visit the sick, and to inspect all drugs that are imported. He must be at least thirty-five years old, a doctor of the faculty, and eminent for his religion and honesty, that his rashness or ignorance may not unpeople the commonwealth. And, that they may not suffer long under any bad choice, he is elected only for three years.
The people are esteemed very honest and rigorous in the execution of justice, and seem to live more happy and contented among their rocks and snows, than others of the Italians do in the pleasantest valleys of the world. Nothing, indeed, can be a greater instance of the natural love that mankind has for liberty, and of their aversion to an arbitrary government, than such a savage mountain covered with people, and the Campania of Rome, which lies in the same country, almost destitute of inhabitants.