Usually, everything inside a country’s borders is part of the same nation — but not always. For example, the country of Italy completely surrounds two independent states: Vatican City and the mountaintop Republic of San Marino.
A semi-walled city-state inside the Italian capital city of Rome, Vatican City or Vatican City State is itself the capital of the Roman Catholic Church. It was established in 1929 as a state apart from the Holy See, the central government of the church. However, the Holy See rules over Vatican City. It’s complicated, but the bottom line is that the city-state is an absolute monarchy whose leader is the Pope.
Vatican City is the world’s smallest independent state in both size and population, covering just over 100 acres and with about 800 citizens. It has its own flag, anthem, and license plates and makes its own stamps and coins, although it uses the euro as currency — even though it’s not a member of the European Union, because only democracies are allowed in the EU.
San Marino also isn’t part of the EU but it too uses the euro as currency. It also mints its own coins, which are favorites among collectors, as are the nation’s stamps. Mount Titano, a three-peaked limestone rock, looms above the surrounding hills, providing sweeping views of Italy that help attract about 3.5 million visitors a year.
Europe’s third smallest country, San Marino sits atop a mountain in north-central Italy and is about 24 square miles, with a population of about 32,500. It calls itself the world’s oldest republic: Legend says it was founded in 301 AD by a stonecutter named Marinus. Nowadays its parliamentary government is based on rules written in the late 16th century.
One reason San Marino has mostly stayed independent over the centuries is because of its hilly location. In the 1800s, the country took in many people who were persecuted for supporting the unification of Italy, and in 1862 a friendship treaty guaranteed its continuing independence from the Italian state.