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San Gimignano is a fundamental place in any itinerary for visiting Italy; despite its small size, it is very famous, as any moment spent in its historical center provides a unique experience.
Nestled in the heart of the Val d’Elsa countryside in the Province of Siena, Tuscany, San Gimignano stands out in the distance with the soaring silhouettes of its medieval towers. San Gimignano is in fact an example of medieval architecture that is almost intact, with an original urban plan dating back to 1200-1300. Despite some nineteenth-century remodeling, it remains one of the best examples in Europe of a communal-age city.
It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its uniqueness. Walking in its narrow streets is like stepping back into the Middle Ages with a time machine.
The medieval village, quite extensive, is enclosed by the walls of the thirteenth century and is crossed by two main roads that intersect in two beautiful squares. The towers and tower houses that rise above the other buildings were built as houses for merchants and financiers of the aristocracy in the twelfth or thirteenth century. They made San Gimignano one of the richest and most flourishing municipalities. Some are well preserved, while others were severed when a family prevailed over another. Of the original 72, there are now 14, of which the most famous are the Torre Grossa, Rognosa Tower, the Tower of Ardinghelli, and that of Salvucci, the two most powerful families at that time.
Founded by the Etruscans and later passed under Roman rule, San Gimignano had the good fortune to be located along the Via Francigena in the Middle Ages. Its centrality favored its development, which culminated in the golden age of Commons, then began its slow decline.
What to see in San Gimignano
Although it is enough to walk along the streets of the old town, using your nose to soak in the charming and unique aroma, and wandering through the shops of artisans and tasting local food and wine, including the famous saffron, you can enrich your experience by visiting numerous monuments and searching for the 14 towers scattered in the center. The focus of the visit is Piazza della Cisterna, surrounded by buildings and medieval towers. It is a unique place of endless charm, dominated by tanker octagonal travertine, which was the center of the medieval public life together with Piazza del Duomo, the center of religious and political life.
The ancient walls surround the medieval core and protect the doors to the city, like Porta San Giovanni and Porta San Matteo.
The new Palazzo del Podesta, with its loggia is the old town hall, is now a civic museum with art gallery masterpieces by artists such as Pinturicchio, Benozzo Gozzoli, and Filippino Lippi. From inside Town Hall you can reach the Torre Grossa, built in 1311 and standing at 54 meters high, and offering spectacular views of the village and the surrounding landscape.
There are numerous religious buildings, including the must-see Collegiate Church, completed in 1148 and considered one of the finest examples of Tuscan Romanesque. Built on three naves, it has frescoed parteti with works by Ghirlandaio, Benozzo Gozzoli, and various artists of the Sienese school.
Also worth visiting are the Rock of Montestaffoli with its imposing city walls, and the Museum of Wine, which offers a journey of taste through Vernaccia di San Gimignano wine, the symbol of the city.
A few kilometers from San Gimignano lies the nature reserve of Castelvecchio, the limestone and varied vegetation of the Mediterranean origin.