San Gimignano is a magical place, made more so by the city walls that surround it - I do love visiting a medieval town with its majestic walls making you feel like you are shut off from the outside world during your visit.
The original town walls were destroyed, and the current walls date back to the 13th century. They have been maintained to an excellent condition and are standing proudly today, with their 5 gates.
Fondest memory: When you arrive in San Gimignano, you will most likely enter the town via the main gate - Porta San Giovanni, at the southern end of town. This gate was built in 1262, and is unusual as it is topped with a guards room.
The other gate we came across was the Porta San Matteo, at the north western side of town, also dating back to 1262.
According to the legend, a young Roman laid the town's foundation stone. Having fled Rome, following the conspiracy by Catiline, Silvio is said to have stopped here, where he built Castello della Selva. Later on, Selva or Silva was named San Gimignano in honour of the Bishop of Modena, the town's saviour.
The town's history, however, is entirely medieval. In the 11th century the village began to grow around the castle of Bishop Abelard, known also as Monte alla torre. Right from the beginning, San Gimignano was subject to rule by the Bishops of Volterra, from which it was released at the end of the 12th century, when it gained municipal independence.
Volterra and San Gimignano remained bitter enemies, persevering for centuries in the struggle for territorial rule.
As the town and its economy starts to grow up, the homes of noble families were erected in the town centre, flanked by towers as a symbol of their power. At the height of the town's splendour, there were no fewer than 72 towers in it.
Favorite thing: This is what one can see from the far distance when approaching to San Gimignano, small townlet on the tophill and very tall towers which rip the sky above it. Amazing and almost unreal scene in the middle of the tame landscapes of Toscana. Why so many tall towers here?
San Gimignano is a lovely village to visit, set on top of a hill on the plains of Tuscany. It is often called the Manhattan of Tuscany due to its medieval high towers.
We found San Gimignano too touristy and loaded with buses full of visitors; still, we don’t regret having visited as we found it really beautiful and ideal for a daytrip. The worst it may happen is that you have to wait longer to visit some monument.
Major highlights of the medieval village are the towers, walls, churches and narrow cobbled streets.
Favorite thing: This was definitely my favourite town in Tuscany. It's a very attractive town full of towers, and surrounded by a city wall. No cars are allowed inside the city wall which makes it very nice to stroll along the cobbled narrow streets. The only thing that I didn't like about this town, it is very crowded by tourists. Never saw that many tourists in the other towns we've visited.
The historic centre of the well kept medieval village of San Gimignano is classified by Unesco as World Heritage site since 1990.
This village is situated about 384m above sea level and apart from being important as a defense point, it was also an important village for pilgrims traveling to and from Rome on the called Via Francigena.
"San Gimignano was founded on the relicts of an ancient etruscan settlement around a seventh century parish and a castle gave to the Volterra’s episcope in 929; during the XII century became a city-republic.
Its first walls were born in 998, when San Gimignano became a business centre along the Francigena Way.
The families, enriched with the commerce, ordered 72 towers to be built (but, as the law forbade, everyone could not exceed in height the Commune tower, called Rognosa).
Further to the continuous infighting between Guelfi and Ghibellini factions (in 1300 also Dante Alighieri stopped there few days as Guelfi’s league ambassador) and to the conflict with Volterra, in 1343 was subordinated to the duke of Athens and in 1353 was subdued to Florence, following later the rule of Grand Duchy of Tuscany till 1860.
The Urban structure and the numerosity of civil and religious buildings, almost intact, preserve the medievale fascination; nowdays remain only 15 of the 72 towers, unbroken or cropped, but they are enough to give an unmistakable mark to the town."
On the picture you can see the coat of arms of San Gimignano.
A very cool fact is that you can walk around the original city walls. They were erected in the year 1251. There were two main gates, the San Giovanni and San Matteo. There are a few other gates, as well: the Delle Fonti, Quercecchio and S.Jacopo
All of the stone came from the nearby quarry of Pecille.
One of the most pleasing characteristics of San Gimignano are the flowered windows and balconies. As we visited in summer, plants were blooming and most windows and backyards were brightly “dressed” in colourful flowers.
If you enjoy photography, San Gimignano’s flowered balconies and backyards will provide plenty of opportunities to use your camera, so pack some extra film or memory card.
The Tourism Office is a busy “office” loaded with visitors. If you plan to ask for some information when you arrive in San Gimignano be prepared to wait (if you are visiting in peak season). As we didn’t feel like waiting and we had already read about San Gimignano, we gave up and left the office, so I cannot account for the helpfulness of the staff.
The Tourism Office is situated near the S. Giovanni entrance door – on the Piazza del Duomo, by the Town Hall.
When you are in San Gimignano you have to climb the Torre Grossa (Great Tower). The tower is 54 meters high and I think it is the only tower you can climb up in San Gimignano. In 1996 I had to pay 8000 lires to go up the tower, but I have no clue how much it is nowadays.
The views from here are spectacular though, so I think it is worth the money. You have a fantastic view over San Gimignano and the surrounding landscape.
A last look at San Gimignano and its towers. What a fascinating place. It's no wonder that the Unesco put the historic centre of San Gimignano on the World heritage list in 1990. I hope to return some day to be mesmerized again by this historic little town.
San Gimignano rises on a hill (334m high) dominating the Elsa Valley with its towers. Once the seat of a small Etruscan village of the Hellenistic period (200-300 BC) it began its life as a town in the 10th century taking its name from the Holy Bishop of Modena, St. Gimignano, who is said to have saved the village from the barbarian hordes.
Photo was taken by our guide.
The Duomo or Collegiate Church, was consecrated in 1148 and is adorned with valuable Sienese School frescoes: "The Old and the New Testament" (Bartolo di Fredi and the "Bottega dei Memmi" or Barna da Siena); "The Last Judgement" (Taddeo di Bartolo) works of art by the Florentine school: "Stories of St. Fina" (Ghirlandaio), "St. Sebastiano" (Benozzo Gozzoli), wooden statues (Jacopo della Quercia) and the Sculptures (Giuliano and Benedetto da Maiano). Frescoes, statues and sculptures make the Collegiate Church of San Gimignano a very prestigious museum.