Among places to see in Tuscany, San Gimignano is a must-see medieval town that attracts a massive number of visitors every day of the year. It’s located in the province of Siena and is conveniently accessible even for those traveling from Florence. As soon as you catch a glimpse of its many towers, which appear to be situated atop the hill on which the town stands, you can tell that it’s a unique and special place.
The History of San Gimignano in the province of Siena
As you approach the nearby hills, you’ll see the striking sight of San Gimignano’s 14 towers enclosed within its walls. The village was originally founded by the Etruscans and later named after the bishop of Modena, San Gimignano, who is said to have saved the city from Attila the Hun. In 1199, it became a comune with the advantage of being located on the Via Francigena, leading to its prosperity.
To show off their wealth and power, prominent families built towers taller than their neighbors’ towers (there were originally 72 of them). Unfortunately, in 1348, a plague devastated much of the population and weakened the local economy, leading to the town’s submission to Florence in 1353. Despite this, the town remains a popular destination for tourists, who are drawn to its rich history, well-preserved medieval streets, and scenic rural setting. Even during the height of summer, when the town is crowded with visitors, its charm is hard to resist.
San Gimignano: what to see? Is worth visiting?
The main square in San Gimignano, called Piazza della Cisterna, is shaped like a triangle and got its name from the ancient water cistern located at the center of the square. Another square nearby, called Piazza del Duomo, has a beautiful cathedral that faces a historic building from the 13th century called Palazzo Vecchio del Podestà, which has a tower called Torre della Rognosa.
The Cathedral. Among the things you’ll see in the city there is for sure the Collegiata. This is the cathedral, which was constructed during the second half of the 11th century, in the Romanesque style. However, what makes it really special are the colorful frescoes that were painted in the 14th century, which show stories from both the Old and New Testaments. Make sure to also check out the Cappella di Santa Fina, which is a chapel located near the main altar and decorated with frescoes by Domenico Ghirlandaio. These paintings depict the life of one of the town’s beloved saints and are both simple and moving.
Piazza della Cisterna. When you’ll explore its historic center, you can’t miss seeing Piazza della Cisterna, which is one of the city’s most beautiful squares. It’s shaped like a triangle, and you can walk through an open passageway to reach the nearby Piazza del Duomo. Despite being surrounded by souvenir shops and ice cream parlors, Piazza della Cisterna is home to some of San Gimignano’s most fascinating landmarks, including the Arco dei Becci, which is an ancient city gate, and several grand palaces such as Palazzo Razzi, Casa Salvestrini, and Palazzo Tortoli. The square is also overlooked by some of the city’s most famous towers, including the twin towers of the Ardinghelli, the tower of the Devil, and the tower of Palazzo Pellari.
Palazzo Comunale. San Gimignano’s Palazzo Comunale, which dates back to the 13th century, has always been the center of local government. Its most impressive room is the magnificently frescoed Sala di Dante, where the great poet addressed the town’s council back in 1299. In the past, the palazzo’s Camera del Podestà and Pinacoteca were used as government offices, but nowadays they house a stunning collection of artworks. Don’t forget to climb the 218 steps of the palazzo’s 54m Torre Grossa to enjoy a breathtaking view of the town and surrounding countryside.
If you want to stay updated about news and events in the city, you can check the official website.
Cover Photo: Reiner, Pixabay