Written by proxam2 on 02 Oct, 2010
San Gimignano has been often been referred to as the Manhattan of Tuscany. No, not because the taxi drivers don't know their way around and can hardly speak a word of English, but because of the resemblance of their respective skylines due to the many…Read More
San Gimignano has been often been referred to as the Manhattan of Tuscany. No, not because the taxi drivers don't know their way around and can hardly speak a word of English, but because of the resemblance of their respective skylines due to the many soaring towers. Personally, on approaching the town, I was reminded more of Cumbernauld (without the grey concrete and the grey weather). Actually, thinking about it, San Jimmy has more of a fairy-tale-like appearance with its tower-bedecked hilltop setting. Whatever, it's an impressive vista and is visible for a good few miles distant. Parking isn't much of a problem (not when we visited at least). There are several, inexpensive car parks on the edge of town and a free shuttle bus will whisk you all the way to the centre of town. It's not all that far, but it is pretty steep so a bus enables someone with limited mobility to get right into the heart of things. Once at the top of the hill and entering one of the town gates, there's no way you'd confuse it with the aforementioned Scottish new town. Apart from the fact that very few gangs of Buckie-fuelled neds block your entrance, SG practically screams 'medieval' from the (very high) rooftops. Although the town in its present form is unmistakenly 13-14th century, its roots date back well over 2000 years when it was an Etruscan settlement. It started to take its present form in the 10th century when it was named after the Bishop of Modena who saved the village from the barbarian hordes... ...speaking of tourists, SG is probably one of Tuscany's, if not Italy's, most famous small towns and as such massive numbers of visitors descend upon it. We were there in early June - in fact it was an Italian holiday, but although it was most definitely crowded, it wasn't overwhelming and there was enough space to move around fairly freely. Most of the town consists of a long street connecting the north and south gates (or east and west - I was compass-less that day) sprinkled with a few piazzas. As you can imagine, this narrow street is lined with all manner of shops selling all manner of goods. This is the Chianti region, so finding a bottle of plonk to buy isn't the most taxing experience. Local foodstuffs were in plentiful supply too, as were art galleries. Apart from that, there's a large number and variety of 'stuff', most of it good quality and not too tatty at all. It's a strange place. Being a native of Edinburgh, I'm no stranger to soaring medieval structures structures and narrow alleys, but the impression the remaining towers of SG give is of scaled-down skyscrapers rather than ricketty old buildings. It's quite disconcerting. I say remaining. There are, I think, some 14 towers still standing from a previous total of over 70. It must have been a sight to behold then. The towers were constructed because of the fierce rivalry between the Guelph and Ghibelline factions in the town during its prosperous years lying on a pilgrimage route. 1348 and the Black Death soon a downturn in the economy and SG was in terminal decline until tourism came to the rescue. Ironic really, because mass tourism, with the emphasis on 'mass', probably does more harm than good these days. Unless, of course, you're the proprietor of a tourist-related business. There's not an awful lot to do in the town. Being an authentic medieval town, there's the ubiquitous Torture Museum. There's also The Duomo and The People's Palace which is home to the town council and the Civic Museum. You can also visit the Great Tower from here. There are a couple of other museums, but the real attraction here are the towers. Don't worry though, you don't have to climb them - they're impressive from ground level too! Eating and drinking here couldn't be easier. There are numerous bars, cafes and restaurants catering for all tastes and wallets liberally sprinkled around. Fast food and snacks are widely available too. Visiting San Gimignano can be done quite comfortably in a long morning with a spot of lunch, or a short day with an evening meal. I think you'd be hard pushed to spend more than a day or two there although I would imagine it's a pleasant place to stay over and stroll the atmospheric streets, under the moonlight and free from the hordes. It's a weird and wonderful little town and no visit to Tuscany would be complete without stopping by this little gem. Would I visit again? Funny you should ask. We stopped there on our way to Sienna. We liked it so much that we stopped for a couple of hours on our way back. However, I don't think I'll go back. After two visits in three days, to tell you the truth, I'm sick and towered of San Gimagnano. Close
Written by Liam Hetherington on 16 May, 2009
San Gimignano is the quintessential Tuscan hill town. It is also well on the tourist trail – but for very good reasons! In fact I would say there are four very good reasons for taking a day trip out to San Gimignano if you should…Read More
San Gimignano is the quintessential Tuscan hill town. It is also well on the tourist trail – but for very good reasons! In fact I would say there are four very good reasons for taking a day trip out to San Gimignano if you should find yourself in Tuscany.1) Its state of preservation. Sad to say, but poverty protects. San Gimignano had a flourishing of great wealth in the 13th and 14th century due to its position on the Via Francigena trade route north from Rome through Tuscany. Added to this it had two notable exports of its own – the spice saffron, so important to the town that the medieval council used it to pay off their debts, and the local white vernaccia wine beloved of popes, potentates and painters (one pope complained that the townsfolk spent too much time on art and culture when they really should be concentrating on producing vernaccia; the Medici of Florence were so keen on the wine that they demanded a liquid tribute from the town for all important functions; Michelangelo wrote impassionedly about the quality of his favourite tipple). This wealth was spent on the art and culture the papacy so resented. San Gimignano was also fiercely courted in the medieval struggles between Florence and Siena, papacy and aristocracy, and Guelphs and Ghibellines (Dante Alligheri arrived on a diplomatic mission in 1300 hoping to win the townsfolk across to the Guelph faction). However, when the Black Death ravaged Europe in the mid-14th century it hit the town particularly hard. Short of menfolk, its economy in ruins, it was annexed by the Florentine state (who built the Rocca), but thereafter languished as a rural backwater. With no inward investment the medieval walls, houses and towers were reused by generation after generation rather than being flattened and built over with more modern construction.2) Its local history. Great wealth brought several powerful families to the fore. Intense rivalry between them developed. This rivalry manifested itself in the proliferation of fortified towers that sprouted up in this tiny city. Why were these towers constructed? Presumably they were partially defensive, but frankly the whole thing was a semi-comic Freudian attempt to prove ones wealth and status by owning the tallest tower – a "My tower’s bigger than your tower" mentality. Finally the civic authorities realised that this whole thing was getting out of hand, and decreed that no tower could be taller than that attached to the town hall, the so-called Torre Grossa, which topped off at 54m when completed in 1311. At one point there were around 75 towers sticking up out of this small village (where did they put them all?), though now we are down to nearer a dozen. Generally they tend towards being plain, windowless and unadorned – more World Trade Centre than Chrysler Building (notably New York also saw a spate of builders attempting to out-do each other with the height of their sky-scrapers in the early 20th century).. Still, these unmistakable and quite remarkable towers provide San Gimignano’s USP, and provide a reason to make a trip here rather than another hill town.3) Its UNESCO World Heritage Site status. For good or ill, UNESCO has designated the town a World Heritage Site. This means that if, like me, you have a studious competitiveness in trying to visit (‘tick off’) as many of these sites as possible, then it is inevitable that you will endeavour to arrange a trip out to San Gimignano (and Pienza south of Siena, which is also a World Heritage Site) rather than other no doubt equally picturesque hill towns if you fancy a journey away from the cities.4) Its ease of access. San Gimignano is on the tourist trail, and organised tours visit frequently. But it is also easy to visit independently by public transport. It is almost equidistant from both Florence and Siena, and is well within day-trip distance. I visited from the (slightly nearer) Siena. Every guidebook I have read states that from either town you will need to catch a bus or train to the town of Poggibonsi then change to one of the frequent local buses there (the central bus stop is right outside the train station). This is nonsense. I hardly went in peak season (March), and yet I found there were buses running hourly from Siena’s Piazza Gramsci bus station direct to San Gimignano. A return ticket was €10.40, and each way takes around 70 minutes. You are deposited right outside the main Porta San Giovanni; for the return head across to the bus stop over on the right hand side on the piazzale once you emerge from the Porta. Close
As the bus to San Gimignano winds up the hill side you are presented with your first glimpse of the town’s famous towers poking above the trees in a suitably epic manner. The bus drops you right outside the Porta San Giovanni, the best-preserved gate…Read More
As the bus to San Gimignano winds up the hill side you are presented with your first glimpse of the town’s famous towers poking above the trees in a suitably epic manner. The bus drops you right outside the Porta San Giovanni, the best-preserved gate to the city.From here follow the crowds of tourists through the gate and up the Via San Giovanni. Shops to either side sell local cheses, meats and wines alongside more obvious tourist fare such as postcards and calendars. This street will deposit you in the Piazza della Cisterna. This is the real heart of the town, centred on a rustic well, often thick with teenagers sat on its lip eating gelato. The older and wiser plump for the cafes that ring the piazza. There are towers around the square too – most notably the ‘Devil’s Tower’ to the north. It gained its name when the owner returned from a journey to find that his tower was taller than when he had left it and jumped to the (understandable) conclusion that the Devil himself must have effected some quick alterations in his absence. From here progress into the Piazza del Duomo. This square holds two sights that you will not want to miss. To one side is the Collegiata, austerely plain and Romanesque without, but beautifully decorated within. Opposite is the Palazzo del Popolo, which holds the Museo Civico and tourist information office (and toilets!). It is here that you can buy cumulative tickets for the various sites in town. It is also attached to the 1311 Torre Grossa, by law the tallest tower in Sam Gimignano. It is also the only tower you can ascend, and provides birds-eye views across the town and surrounding countryside. If you head west (uphill) from here you will reach the Rocca, or fortress. Frankly there is not much here. It was pulled down in the mid-16th century on the orders of Cosimo I de Medici. All you are left with are the remains of the wall surrounding a patch of lawn. You can climb steps to the remains of a corner tower though, which gives a good view of the remaining towers within the town itself as you are more or less at roof-top height here.Returning to the Piazzi you can turm north and wander along the main street to the furthest part of town. The church of Sant’ Agostino is set up here. It has a quiet little brick courtyard but no signs of life when I visited, though it does hold a Gozzoli fresco cycle of the life of St Augustine. If you head east from here you will find one of the most enjoyable sectors of the town in my view. Not many tourists seem to make it down the Via di San Gimignano and it is a lot more peaceful. Plus you end up at the Porta San Jacopo. The San Jacopo church here is decorated with a Templar cross and blue Tunisian dishes set into its early 13th-century stonework. I found myself leaving the town at the gateway here, and continuing by following the path that runs outside the walls on the wetsern edge of town. To your left you are flanked by trees, gardens and vegetable patches. You can re-enter the town at the Porta dei Fonti; otherwise it is a long looping walk back to the next gate, the Porta San Giovanni. Before you leave, take a moment to check out the shops. One thing they sell here that caught my eye was pre-packaged boxes of local wines in different configurations. Competition keeps the prices low, though they tend to be higher around the Piazza della Cisterna, and cheaper as you near the gates. I actually found the area immediately inside the Porta San Giovanni the cheapest, and ended up buying a box containing two bottles of chianti and a bottle of the local vernaccia for just €10.70. Close
Written by VA_traveler on 06 Jul, 2007
San Gimignano, like most Tuscan towns, has its share of towers. More than its share, actually - the 13 towers still standing give this little town the record. It isn't all about height, though - in fact, only one of the towers is open for…Read More
San Gimignano, like most Tuscan towns, has its share of towers. More than its share, actually - the 13 towers still standing give this little town the record. It isn't all about height, though - in fact, only one of the towers is open for climbing. San Gimignano has other charms to draw you. Like gelato. Yes, this town, with its population of about 7,000, is the home to the world's BEST gelato. This record is held by the gelateria in the Piazza della Cisterna in the center of town, which has won an international contest so many times, it's rumored each year that the owner is bored with the contest. It's a nondescript little shop, but the flavors are heavenly...we had tried lots of gelato already on our trip, but this was by far the best. Choose your flavors (be aware - the champagne and white wine gelatos are not just flavors - I think I got a little tipsy!) and bring it out into the piazza. Grab a seat on the cisterna (community well), and watch the diners in the nearby cafes, the organ grinders, and the tourists. San Gimignano is very well touristed. With good reason - it's extremely walkable, has beautiful views of the surrounding valleys, and some really lovely little alleys and buildings. But, just a block or two away from the main tourist streets things quiet down, laundry hangs from windows, and neighbors chat. Definitely make time in your stop here to venture a bit beyond the tourist-heavy areas. One of our more surreal experiences on this trip happened in San Gimignano. While climbing one of the little streets on the outskirts of town, we began to hear music. I assumed it was being piped in from some unseen restaurant nearby, until we rounded a corner to an open area with a beautiful view...and a harpsichord player. Lovely music for a lovely setting. But still, a strange instrument for a busker!We were also struck by the buildings themselves. Almost every wall is scarred with reminders of former neighboring buildings, once attached to one another for support. Many buildings had what looked to be old windows, bricked in to provide another use for the rooms inside. The changes felt very organic, though - not as if anything significant had happened to initiate them, just a part of the natural growth and change of a town. That change has been minimal, though - the streets still feel ancient. As you walk through the streets of town, be sure to notice the front doors to homes - most were heavy, studded, wooden things, polished brightly and standing in sharp contrast to the rough stone of the buildings. Close
Written by Traveling Gal on 26 Jun, 2002
Throughout Tuscany, I thoroughly recommend visiting every local food festival that you can! You will be rewarded with wonderful memories.
In San Gimignano, we awoke from a nap to find ourselves ravenous. It was late -by the time we decided to find a restaurant,…Read More
Throughout Tuscany, I thoroughly recommend visiting every local food festival that you can! You will be rewarded with wonderful memories.
In San Gimignano, we awoke from a nap to find ourselves ravenous. It was late -by the time we decided to find a restaurant, they were all closed or too expensive for us. Despondent, but comforting ourselves with thoughts of yet more gelato, we suddenly saw a sign for the "Sagra del Buongustaio". With my limited italian, I translated this as "Festival of Good Food" and off we went...
We climbed a set of stairs to a very large concrete patio. Families were eating, smoking and laughing at large tables. Small children grinned at us and young men not-so-discreetly checked us out. No one spoke fluent English, and we spoke only about 20 words of italian, but managed to buy tickets at the door for pasta with pesto and wine. Confused, we then went to the open kitchen area to get our food. "No, no!" said a smiling older man, who gallantly led us to a table and assured us that he would take care of us. We were brought wonderful pesto ($2.50 U.S.), and the wine (about $3 U.S.) was a full bottle of a lovely local - and unlabeled - chianti. Just to be nice, he also brought us some sausage to try, and tidbits of other items, and in between his other duties would stop by and we would attempt to chat.
Great food and a warm welcome - everyone was welcoming and kind. We ate too much, got a little tipsy, and stumbled back to our room, very glad that we had taken a chance and followed a random sign tacked up on the wall...it seems this is an annual sagra, so if you are in the area, go!
Written by travel2000 on 02 Nov, 2000
As with most small Italian towns, walking through the small alleys and streets is the best way to explore. Get lost and take streets depending on your instincts and what strikes your fancy. Stop and take photos and admire the different towers. There used to…Read More
As with most small Italian towns, walking through the small alleys and streets is the best way to explore. Get lost and take streets depending on your instincts and what strikes your fancy. Stop and take photos and admire the different towers. There used to be many more of these towers, but now, there are only 13 or 14 left. Try to imagine how the town looked before with 70 such towers looming over you.
I also enjoyed the old men sitting around chatting. What a pleasure to go through life with a few good friends, living in a picturesque town, and chatting about whatever. That's the essence of life in Italy, and I soaked it in every chance I had.
Written by PeterMu on 07 Jul, 2004
Looking around shows at first a long main street from one end of the city to the other. Here you will find one shop after the other (wine, ceramics, leather, clothing, souvenirs, food of wild boars, olive oil. All the time there is one of…Read More
Looking around shows at first a long main street from one end of the city to the other. Here you will find one shop after the other (wine, ceramics, leather, clothing, souvenirs, food of wild boars, olive oil. All the time there is one of the old, high towers (Manhattan of Tuscany) in the field of vision. Soon you will find the small streets and stairs leading up and down and soon you will find places to look over the Tuscan landscape (e.g. from the top of the fortress). Very interesting are the older people of San Gimignano sitting on their places in the main street (nearly the whole day) - they are engaged in a real palaver. Close
Written by dglawless on 26 Jun, 2001
San Gimigniano was the place that was used as a prison for the women in the movie "Tea With Mussolini". It was like revisiting when I saw the movie. It was, in fact, used as a prison during WWII but was surprisingly spared a…Read More
San Gimigniano was the place that was used as a prison for the women in the movie "Tea With Mussolini". It was like revisiting when I saw the movie. It was, in fact, used as a prison during WWII but was surprisingly spared a lot of damage during the war.
It stands high on a hill and the view is spectacular. It is a walled city and the only way you can travel around is on foot. No motor vehicles are allowed. This makes the experience even more enjoyable and is a great relief from the motor scooters of Rome and Florence.
Written by Colleen on 22 Sep, 2000
San Gimignano is a good place to get some picnic supplies. Stop in the little shops and pick up some dried Tuscan sausage, cheese, bread, fruit and wine. The Tuscan countryside creates a better environment for lunch than any crowded restaurant can.…Read More
San Gimignano is a good place to get some picnic supplies. Stop in the little shops and pick up some dried Tuscan sausage, cheese, bread, fruit and wine. The Tuscan countryside creates a better environment for lunch than any crowded restaurant can. Close
I do not recommend staying in town because it can get very crowded and touristy. The best places to stay in the area are at the Agriturismos. These are farms that offer classy accommodations (don't worry you don't have to milk any cows) and homemade…Read More
I do not recommend staying in town because it can get very crowded and touristy. The best places to stay in the area are at the Agriturismos. These are farms that offer classy accommodations (don't worry you don't have to milk any cows) and homemade meals in a country setting. They are also very inexpensive. My favorite is Voltrona Fattoria, which is approx. 3 miles outside of San Gimignano. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Close