What is the oldest country in the world?

Human civilization has been traced back thousands of years in places like China, Egypt and Iran, but the existence of these countries as modern nations only came more recently. The world’s oldest continuous sovereign state is rather smaller than those historical superpowers. Founded in 301 AD, this is the story of San Marino.

At just 23.5 square miles, it is roughly one-third the size of Washington DC. It has a population of just 33,000. Landlocked as an enclave in Italy, its capital sits up on a mountain and has breathtaking architecture and views. 

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While the tiny state of San Marino may seem like a somewhat anti-climactic answer, its diminutive size and mountainous location have been integral to its unrivaled survival. 

The size means that in countless European wars over the last 1,700 years, San Marino has never been a massive external threat, nor one that needs to be conquered. As armies have risen and fallen and borders changed almost continuously, the kingdom of San Marino has been able to plow on. 

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Flag of San Marino

Being an enclave of Italy has also protected it from aggressors. It has had to fight for its survival, using the elevation of ancient forts to fend off attackers, notably the Malatesta family, who ruled the nearby port of Rimini. Its autonomy was even respected by Napoleon when he invaded Italy. 

Since the unification of the rest of the Italian peninsula in the 19th century, San Marino has maintained generally peaceful diplomatic relations with its lone bordering nation. 

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The capital is called San Marino City, and is said to be founded by the early Christain St. Marinus, who fled Rimini to escape religious persecution. Much of the city is enclosed within ancient walls and towered over by a castle called Guaita Tower, on top of Mount Titano.

Two leaders, known as ‘Captain Regents’ run the country. Both change every six months, in a mode of government that dates back to the 13th century. 

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People gather at the Government House in San Marino, 10/8/1957.(Photo by Express/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

As well as being the oldest continuous country in the world, San Marino may also be the first to have democratically elected a Communist government. After Fascist rule in Italy collapsed in 1945, the Sammarinise Communist Party was elected and ruled until 1957. Something of a constitutional crisis, known as Fatti de Roverata, marked the eventual end of Communist rule, but a provisional government was established. 

Though not in the European Union, San Marino uses the Euro as its currency. It has been a member of the United Nations since 1992.

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