San Marino: The Ubiquitous Three Towers

At 38 square miles, San Marino is the fifth smallest country in the world, located just inland from the Adriatic coast and entirely surrounded by Italian territory. Stamps were first issued in 1877 but look closely – it’s not always obvious – and you’ll notice that three towers feature in many of the issues. It’s an almost ubiquitous design feature. The three towers are sited on the three peaks of Monte Titano (‘Mount Titan’), which forms part of the Apennines and is the highest peak in San Marino at 739m elevation. The capital, also named San Marino, is built on the slopes of Mont Titano and dominates the surrounding landscape.

Flag of San Marino featuring the three towers
Flag of San Marino featuring the three towers

It is believed that San Marino was founded in 301 by a Christian stonemason, Marinus. He had escaped Roman persecution and fled the island of Arbe off the Dalmatian coast, taking refuge on Mount Titano where he founded a small community of Christians. In memory of Marinus, the area was initially named the ‘Land of San Marino’, later becoming the Republic of San Marino. The republic comprised just the immediate territory of Mount Titano until 1463 when Pope Pius II awarded San Marino the towns of Fiorentino, Montegiardino and Serravalle. At this time, the town of Faetano chose to voluntarily join the republic.

So important are the three towers to the San Marino culture, that they appear both on the national flag and coat of arms. The three towers are named Guita, Cesta and Montale. Originally built in the 11th century, Guaita is the oldest and arguably the most famous, acting as a defence during the war fought between San Marino and the House of Malatesta in the 15th century. Cesta is located on the highest of the three peaks of Monte Titano and built in the 13st century on the site of an earlier Roman fort. Today, it serves as a museum in honour of Saint Marinus and houses weaponry from the Medieval period to today. Montale is located on the lowest peak and is believed to have been built as a defence by the Malatesta family in the 14th century.

San Marino postcard featuring a scene of Mount Titano and the three towers
San Marino postcard with a scene comprising Mount Titano and the three towers

San Marino’s postal service was established in 1862 using stamps of Sardinia and then the new Italian Kingdom – these stamps are often only distinguishable by the postmark. The first distinctive stamps of San Marino issued in 1877, all featured the three towers except for the 2c denomination. Since then, the three towers have appeared consistently on stamp issues albeit in cases, somewhat covertly. The following are just a few examples …

San Marino 1946 1l stamp featuring wings over a representation of Mount Titano and the three towers
1l stamp of the 1946 Air Mail issue

The 1946 Air Mail issue comprised 11 stamps with designs all featuring Mount Titano and the three towers. The design adopted on the pictured 1l, also used on the 25c and 10l denominated stamps, features wings over a representation of Mount Titano and the three towers. The feature image is the 6l denominated stamp from the 1947 issue commemorating the centenary of the first US postage stamps. The stamp design comprises the Statue of Liberty and Mount Titano and the three towers.

San Marino 1949 2l stamp featuring town of Serravalle against a backdrop of Mount Titano
2l stamp of the 1949 pictorial definitive issue
San Marino 1958 1l stamp featuring wheat against a backdrop of Mount Titano
1l stamp of the 1958 issue of fruit and agricultural products

The 1949 pictorial definitive issue all featured the three towers in the lower left tablet. The pictured 2l stamp, as well as the 12l and 50l denominated stamps, also feature the vignette of the town of Serravalle against a backdrop of Mount Titano and the three towers. The 1958 pictorial issue comprising 10 stamps commemorating local fruit and agricultural products are attractive in their own right. The set adopts images of wheat, maize, grapes, peaches and plums all set against a backdrop of … yes, you guessed it, the inescapable Mount Titano and the three towers. These are just a selection of the stamps featuring what is clearly a scene of great cultural importance to San Marino.

To view postal issues of San Marino, please visit the M&S Philately HipStamp store.

Published by nigelmandsphilatelycom

Nigel Matthews has been a philatelist for more than 30 years. He has a particular interest in the postal history of the Caribbean including associated British Commonwealth countries (incl. Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Leeward Islands, Monserrat, St Lucia, St Vincent, Trinidad & Tobago, Turks & Caicos) as well as Cuba, Danish West Indies, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Martinique, Netherlands Antilles and Puerto Rico.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: