Results 1-6of 6 Reviews
St. Augustine, Florida
November 19, 2009
From journal Day Trips to Cities Near Florence
Los Angeles, California
August 19, 2009
From journal City Squares Rendezvous
February 8, 2006
However, as we approach our target town, we see in the distance a vision of a modern town with its high-rise flats. I feel that I am about to be bitterly disappointed until we are much closer and are rewarded with a quaint and thoroughly interesting walled town.
San Gimignano is sited on a 350m high hill and its tall towers dominate the Elsa Valley. It started life as a small Etruscan village around 300 BC but did not develop as a town until the 10th century. It was named after the bishop of Modena, St. Gimignano, who is said to have saved the village from barbarian invasion. Not sure he could have done this single-handed, but it makes for some good mythology! It was well placed on a central pilgrim and trading route and increased in prosperity during the Middle Ages, resulting in the development of some fine buildings and the acquisition of some seriously expensive religious iconery.
In 1348, its population and wealth were significantly diminished as the town was ravaged by the Black Death Plague, and in the aftermath, control was assumed by the mighty town of Florence. However, you can’t keep a good town down, and over the years its importance as an agricultural centre (it was after all surrounded by fertile land) gave rise to its renaissance.
We spent a good couple of hours wandering the streets of this fabulous town straining our necks as we looked up at the mighty 54m-high Podesta’s tower, which was constructed as early as 1311. Certainly the layout of the place was heavily influenced by the neighbouring towns of Florence, Sienna, and Pisa.
There’s plenty to see including the Collegiate Church, consecrated in 1148, the people’s palace (with its fine art collection), the Archaeological Museum and the Museum of Sacred Arts.
Overall, the great thing about San Gimignano is that it still retains its medieval qualities and it is possible, despite the fact that this is on a major tourist route, to find peace and tranquillity in the neighbouring countryside and meander the narrow cobbled streets of the town. There were plenty of people around, but this created a live bustle to the place, and somehow it didn’t feel just like a tourist attraction. It was indeed a living town with in-your-face history living and breathing all around.
From journal Touring Tuscany
by Bear in Britain
Windsor, United Kingdom
November 4, 2002
The towers make the town unique. In the bad old days of the late Middle Ages every noble family had to watch its back as it waded through the dangerous local politics. Houses were for entertainment and defence, thus each had a formidable defensive tower. (Now we just hire lawyers.) In most towns the eventual winner in the political battles made the losers tear them down. Here, 13 remain. This creates an unforgettable skyline and offers beguiling architectural diversity.
If you only have time for one cultural visit, pick the cathedral. There are stunning fresco cycles here. (In the movie Tea with Mussolini you can watch the tale of the British women held here as prisoners of war who worked to save the frescos during WWII.) Don’t miss the vision of hell, up and to the left from the main door. It is a gruesome insight into the medieval mind. More soothing is the chapel of St. Fina (the town’s patron). The artist Ghirlandaio painted in marvellously rich colours that have barely faded. He used contemporary views of San Gimignano as his backdrops; you’ll enjoy comparing the 15th century skyline to today’s.
The other big draw for me in San Gimignano is the shopping. I’ll mention a few highlights.
CERAMICS: There are many shops, some offering good deals on the more mass-produced stuff. If you want true artisan’s work, go to the shop in the corner of the piazza della cisterna, to the right of the entrance into the via del castello. The worshop is in the back, what’s on offer is always changing, they speak good English and are used to shipping around the world.
LEATHER: There are lots of shops selling top quality jackets and bags here, and you’ll often find better prices than the supposed "deals" in Florence’s Straw Market.
LINEN: Many Italians favour deep cotton waffle towels over the more typical pile. These are marvellously luxurious but can be tough to find; lots of shops in San Gimignano offer them. One of the finest is just a short walk down the Via del Castello, on the left when the Piazza della Cisterna is on your back. Towels, sheets, linens, etc., all of the best quality.
FOOD: Stock up! Small gourmet stores line the streets and offer good bulk buys on sun dried tomatoes, dried mushrooms and balsamic vinegar. There are more exotic offerings, too, like local cheeses and wild boar sausages. (These, of course, won’t travel too well!) There’s even an enterprising local vintner who has turned a disused church on the Via san Giovanni into a tasting room and shop. Even if you don’t drink wine, wander in here to check out the view at the back.)
From journal Tuscan Summers: Living "La Vita Buona"
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
March 23, 2002
Regular buses deliver you to the front door in 80 minutes. It’s small and easily explored on foot, but allow a full day, preferably a weekday, and go early to beat the tour groups.
Must-do: Feast on frescoes in the Romanesque church of the Collegiata, sample Tuscany’s exceptional wine and produce, explore local artisan’s shops and wander through the old walled garden.
A Diary Extract…
We changed buses at Poggibonsi, it’s an accelerato bus we’re told because it makes frequent stops and must accelerate all the time – obvious, really.
San Gimignano has thirteen towers and a fortress wall. It’s alive and bustling with tourists. Shops selling hand-painted ceramics, colourful glass bottles from Murano, local artists in the streets selling small, framed watercolours, leather shops with pricey handbags, jewellery stores, food shops and, of course, many cafes.
In the corner of a small stone walled garden a violin player busked. We climb the garden wall to look across the countryside, walking past a wisteria covered two-storey villa where a ginger kitten played with imaginary mice in the flower garden. An old man flashed a toothless grin, then buona sera’d us from his tomato patch.
I climbed one of the towers while Karen searched the shops. We found a print gallery owned by two local artists. One of the artists, Walter, has a gentle, golden, dog named Selva who jumped to greet us.
Karen instantly fell in love with her. Walter had found her abandoned in the woods near his home and it took him ten days to coax her from the forest – they are now inseparable. Walter explains that Selva is latin for forest. He recommended some walks in the area and we said goodbye, giving Selva one last hug, leaving with four of Walter’s prints.
Food shops abound. Butchers display stuffed wild boars, a speciality of the area. Karen thinks it’s gross but I love the rich taste. We are both taken with the gorgeous panfortes and different flavoured pastas, even chocolate!
We stop to admire many of the tiny hidden piazzas and stumble on a wine shop, tasting some of the area’s bounty and grazing on cheese. The merlots are sensational but, as usual, everything tastes great after a while. Another advantage of public transport – at least you can drink and ride.
We roll out of the wine shop and into another pasticceria, buying a huge panforte before bidding farewell to one of Tuscany’s prettiest towns. [This panforte made it all the way to Basel, in Switzerland, where we consumed the lot in one night playing cards with our friends.]
From journal TRAVELS IN TUSCANY - No Licence Required
by Go Girl!
October 11, 2000
From journal Dreamy Tuscany