Commerce was its main activity, and the local families enriched with the active trading have ordered to build 72 towers in the city (the law didn’t permit that no tower was taller than the City Hall tower, called Rognosa). The towers were a symbol of power, and as San Gimignano has been subjugated by Florence on the 1353, many of the towers have been dismantled. The same has happened to the important city of Siena, which towers have been all dismantled except for the City Hall’s tower – the Torre del Mangia.
San Gimignano has been under Florence’s control, under the Tuscany Grand Duchy, until 1860 when Italy has been unified under one king. This fact has allowed the charming city to preserve all its historical treasures. Only 50 years ago San Gimignano has started to be recognized as a touristy destination.
What to see at San Gimignano?
From the road you start to foresee the shape of San Gimignano with its grey towers drawn against the blue skys. Once uphill you must park the car outside and enter one of its medieval gates with a welcoming sign saying UNESCO patrimony.
Go ahead through the main street usually called by Italians “Il Corso”. There are many souvenir, and handicraft shops, typical products groceries, wineries and cafés. Arriving at the cistern’s square, don’t miss one of the best handmade ice-creams in Tuscany! This “gelateria” has got international awards!
The City Hall
In the main square, on the right side, you enter a cloister which walls are completely covered by frescoes. The building is from the 13th century and the tower from the 14th century. The building holds on the second floor an important gallery with paintings from Siennese and Florentine artists like Filippino Lippi, Benozzo Gozzoli, Pinturicchio, Coppo di Marcovaldo, etc.
Address: Piazza del Duomo - Tel : +39 0577 990312
November - February - From 9:30am to 6:00pm
March to October - From 9:30am to 7.30pm
Sacred Art Museum
Founded at 1930, the Museum shows unique pieces of art from the Cathedral and other churches around the territory, like important works from the 12th till the 19th centuries: boards, canvas, ceramics pieces, funerary monuments and much more
Address: Piazza Pecori, 1 - Tel : +39 0577 942226
April – October From 9.30am to 7.30pm
November – March From 9.30am to 5.00pm
Spezieria di Santa Fina (ancient Pharmacy)
The Archaeological Museum holds an important collection of Etruscan-Roman pieces and Middle Ages materials from the territory. The “Speziaria” is an ancient pharmacy where it they prepared and sold antique medicine on natural base. There is an exhibition of this material like ceramics objects, original glass bottles and documents of the ancient pharmacy. The place holds also a Modern and Contemporary Art Gallery.
Address: Via Folgore, 11 - Tel : +39 0577 940348
March to December - From 11:00am to 6:00pm
January and February - From 11:00am 6.00pm (ONLY on the weekends).
Piazza della Cisterna
Represents the centre of the village, it has a triangular form and took its name from the cistern built in the centre on the 1237. It used to be the real place from where the community used to pick up the water. It is surrounded by the following Palaces: Casa Razzi, with the two-mullioned windows; Casa Salvestrini, now a Hotel, built 800 years ago; Palazzo Tortoli-Treccani with Siennese style orders of mullioned windows, Palazzo Lupi with its tower called Torre del Diavolo; Palazzo degli Ardinghelli and Palazzo Cortesi.
Piazza del Duomo – Cathedral square
It has a brickwork floor just like the Cistern square, the Cathedral square is surrounded by palaces and towers. On the top of a large flight of steps, the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption is constructed the 12th century in traditional Romanesque style. In its interior it holds beautiful frescoes from the Siennese and Florentine schools. On the opposite side, there is the Podestà Palace or the City Hall, with the Rognosa Tower, the taller one is 50 meters heigh.
La Rocca - the fortress
Bearing the right flank of the Cathedral, below the Bell Tower, you see the access to La Rocca (The Rock). This is a fortress built from the Florentine troops as an act of domination and attested the people of San Gimignano submission to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, controlled by the Florentine families. It contained 5 towers where the soldiers used to be placed to defend the territory limits. Once San Gimignano entered to be part of Siena Province, with the Unified Italy, the fortress have been abandoned and just transformed into a Public Park from 1978 onwards. Don’t miss a visit on the Rock, the view of Elsa Valley is amazing!
San Gimignano is well-known by two specific typical products: the wine Vernaccia di San Gimignano and the cultivation of saffron. Vernaccia di San Gimignano The origins of this grapevine is ancient, some texts affirm that a certain Vieri de' Bardi has brought the Vernaccia from Liguria during the 1200’s century. His descendents have developed the cultivation of this grapevine and it became famous already in the year 1276. Many noble families and powerful man of that time used to consume it and even a tax has been applied for its commerce outside the territory. Even Dante Alighieri mentions Vernaccia on his Divine Comedy under the voice of the character Foreste Donati (Purgatory, XIV,19-24).
Vernaccia di San Gimignano is a white wine produced exclusively on this territory and takes the same denomination of the grapes. It has received the European label D.O.C.G. – for Controlled and Guaranteed Origin Denomination. The grape is picked by hand, destalked and submitted to the maceration, then suffers a soft squeeze that finishes the alcoholic fermentation, and the wine completes maturation in French oak barriques. Its bouquet is wide and delicate like white pulp fruit with a smooth touch of bitter almonds and white flowers, with a pleasant final vanilla spicy touch. The taste is fine and persistent, dry and with the correct flavour. Served on the temperature of 13°C, Vernaccia matches perfectly with fish, white meat and seasoned cheese.
San Gimignano Saffron
The saffron cultivation has an ancient history, many documents testify the intensive cultivation of saffron in the lands of San Gimignano and its importance to the local economy during the Middle Ages. The pure saffron of San Gimignano is cultivated only with natural methods, that exclude any kind of chemical treatments during its cultivation, exsiccation and conservation. Its stigma are manufactured in one piece, to avoid it loses its strong, pungent and softly bitter aroma.
For more information about San Gimignano, visit: http://www.sangimignano.net/
Villas in San Gimignano area: IL POZZO
Article by Adriana Lucchesi
San Gimignano is one of Tuscany's UNESCO sites - read more here!