San Gimignano is a beautiful medieval town located in Tuscany, Italy, in the Siena Province. This beautiful walled, hill town is mainly famous for its architecture dating back to medieval times, and its high towers which can even be seen from the surrounding areas. The town is spread over an area of 138 sq km with the population of close to 7500 inhabitants.
According to scholars the town was first founded by the Etruscans around the 3rd century BC. The economy of San Gimignano is dependent mainly on agriculture, wine production and now on tourism. Because of the rise in agritourism, San Gimignano is now being visited by more tourists each year, who come here to enjoy its natural beauty and its architecture.
San Gimignano is a jewel nestled in the Tuscan hills, close to the cities of Florence and Siena. A town that has managed to maintain its medieval appearance and atmosphere, it was once an important stop for pilgrims who travelled to Rome through the Via Francigena. In the medieval period, the town’s controlling families built as many as 72 tower houses, a clear indication to the world of their wealth of power, and today 14 of these are still standing for visitors to see. A town filled to the brim with artistic masterpieces dating back to the 14th and 15th century, San Gimignano became part of the UNESCO’s World Heritage Site list in 1990.
Attractions in San Gimignano
San Gimignano’s historic center holds four beautiful piazzas – Piazza del Duomo, Piazza Pecori, Piazza delle Erbe and Piazza della Cisterna. The town’s two main streets, Via San Giovanni and Via San Mattero, cross the town going north-south and intersect at its center. Along with the towers, San Gimignano offers visitors a wealth of noteworthy art and monuments to discover.
Piazza Del Duomo
The Piazza Del Duomo is the main piazza of San Gimignano. The piazza is quite picturesque and the town cathedral is located here. Around the piazza, are several large towers that are believed to have been built around a thousand years ago. Since this is the main piazza, it tends to get crowded with tourists.
The San Gimignano 1300 Museum
For those interested in learning more about San Gimignano’s history and architecture the 1300 Museum is not to be missed. In additional to housing a large collection of objects and artifacts that showcase the history of the city, the museum also features a large reconstruction of the town, imagining what San Gimignano would have looked like in the 13th and the 14th centuries.
The Collegiate Church, or the Duomo of San Gimignano, is located in the city’s historic center and is one of the most important places in town. Built in the traditional Tuscan Renaissance style, the cathedral can be found in Piazza del Duomo. Important for both its artistic and religious value, much of the priceless art originally commissioned for the cathedral has been moved to the town’s museum for better preservation.
Originally a parish church, the Duomo was consecrated in 1148. In 1238 works began on enhancing and embellishing the building, mainly because of the attention it had received from various important dignitaries. Famous artists were called in to complete the cathedral’s chapels, frescoes, friezes and paintings.
The interior of the Duomo features several beautiful frescoes, including the one by Bartolo di Fredi that can be seen to the left of the aisle and features various scenes from the Old Testatment. On the right side of the aisle is a fresco of the New Testament painted by La Bottega dei Memmi. The central nave features two beautiful wooden statues made by Jacopo della Quercia that flank Benozzo Gozzoli’s fresco depicting the martyrdom of Saint Sebastian. Above the nave, a fresco showing the Last Judgement, painted by Taddeo di Bartolo, can be seen.
Arguably the most exquisite part of the church is the Chapel of Saint Fina, which was constructed in 1468. The chapel’s beautiful altar was created by Benedetto da Maiano and the frescoes, one of which depicts Saint Gregorio telling Saint Fina of her approaching death, were painted by none other than Domenico Ghirlandaio.
The Pinacoteca Civica
The Pinacoteca Civica is a civic art museum. The tiny museum is located in the Palazzo Pubblico and has an impressive collection of art work from some of the best known artists in the region. Tourists who are interested in art would find the Pinacoteca Civica quite interesting.
The towers of other cities of Italy, such as Florence or Bologna, have been destroyed due to natural catastrophes, wars, and urbanization. San Gimignano is one of the very few places in Italy where fourteen medieval towers have been preserved. The international symbol of San Gimignano, these towers of varying heights are not to be missed.
From Dante’s Hall (Alighieri visited the city in 1300), in the town center’s palace, it is possible to access the beautiful Majesty fresco created by Lippo Memmi. From this location visitors can also access the Torre Grossa or Torre del Podestà, built in 1311. Standing 54 meters high, the Torre Grossa is one of the fourteen towers that visitors to the town can look forward to seeing.
Church of Sant’ Agostino
Visitors to San Gimignano will not want to miss the famous and important Church of Saint Agostino. The façade of the church is quite simple, with a wooden framework for the roof. The door on the main façade is not used as the entrance, instead the door on the right of the building is generally used by those entering the church. Inside, there is a single nave and three apses.
The construction of the church began in 1280 and it was consecrated in 1298. The original architecture had a mixture of Gothic and Romanesque elements. The cloister and various other decorations were added in the 15th century. One of the most interesting aspects of the church is the Chapel of the Blessed Bartolo, where the remains of the saint are kept in a marble monument created by Benedetto da Maiano in the 15th century.
Inside the church visitors can marvel at the frescoes on the walls of the chapel and vaults painted by Sebastiano Mainardi, as well as at the beautiful terracotta floors designed by the noted artist Andrea della Robbia. Not to be missed are the Madonna and the Saints artwork and the wooden crucifix, both of which date back to the 15th century, as well as the fresco of the life of Saint Agostino created by Gozzoli.
Piazza Della Cisterna
Piazza Della Cisterna is an old piazza in San Gimignano, which is one of the most medieval looking piazzas in town. There is an old stone well in its center, which is no longer in use. The weekly market is organized here every Thursday.
Fiera Delle Messi
The Fiera Delle Messi (The Harvest Fair) is held in San Gimignano every year in June. The locals, dressed in medieval costumes, gather for a procession, and various traditional rituals are followed during the festival. There is normally a feast after the procession.
Getting to San Gimignano
There is no train station in San Gimignano, but visitors can take a train to Poggibonsi and then reach San Gimignano by bus. There are plenty of buses that leave for San Gimignano from Florence and Siena. Roughly around five to six buses depart for the town every day from these two larger cities and tickets are easily available. Visitors can also reach San Gimignano from Volterra and from Colle di Val d’Elsa. Visitors who have their own cars can easily drive down from Siena or Florence and reach San Gimignano in a little more than an hour.
Moving Around the Town
San Gimignano is a small, walled town. No cars are allowed within the town walls, and visitors who have their own cars would have to park them outside, in one of the parking lots. Buses that operate from Porta San Giovanni would leave visitors outside the walls. Inside the walled town, visitors can easily explore the area on foot since it is very small. Most of the attractions can all be visited within one day, even on foot.
Stay and Accommodation
San Gimignano has quite a lot of good hotels since the town attracts many tourists every year. There are also a few good Bed & Breakfasts and some luxury hotels in Sam Gimignano as well as in the towns nearby. However, most people prefer to stay in town, since there are only a few places to explore here. Some of the good hotels to try in San Gimignano are Hotel Casolare le Terre Rosse, Hotel Sovestro, Relais Cappuccina, La Cisterna, L’Antico Pozzo, Leon Bianco, Hotel San Michele and Hotel Villa Belvedere. Out of town there are also some camping sites.
Eating in San Gimignano
There are some good restaurants, bars, trattorias and pizzerias in San Gimignano. Restaurants serve food which is simple and made with freshly grown ingredients and dishes are mostly Italian and Tuscan. Seafood and good wines are available everywhere in San Gimignano. Some of the best known restaurants in town are Cum Quibus, Ristorante Le Vecchia Mura, Il Trovatore, Fattoria Poggio Alloro and Osteria Delle Catene. There are plenty of smaller restaurants around the center of the historic town where the locals eat: these places serve good food at quite low rates. Don’t forget to try gelato in San Gimignano!
Shopping in San Gimignano
There are a few places in San Gimignano where tourists can shop. There are quite a lot of small shops in the older section of the town where locals sell clothes, jewelry, furniture, pottery and many other artifacts. The town is known mostly for its olive oil, wine, dairy products and agricultural products so the best things to purchase in San Gimignano are bottles of wine, virgin olive oil and local cheese. There are many vineyards located on the hills around the town, where good quality grape is grown and the wines available here are known to be some of the best in Italy.
A short way from Florence and Siena visitors can find the medieval town of San Gimignano, whose city walls hold priceless glories of art and architecture. San Gimignano has something for everyone and visitors can imagine following in Dante’s footsteps as they stroll through the streets of the town, gaze at the magnificient frescoes, and admire the medieval towers that reach high above the great city, almost into forever.