San Gimignano (The town of Fine Towers) is a small walled medieval village in the province of Siena, Tuscany about halfway between Florence and Siena. Tuscany is already famous for its amazing and dramatic landscapes and hilltop towns. San Gimignano is one of the most fascinating towns of Tuscany famous for its medieval architecture and the amazing medieval skyscrapers. These skyscrapers were built by the rich families in a competition to show their wealth and power.
Initially, there were 72 towers built but only 14 have survived the test of times. These towers on a hilltop town with encircling walls create a beautiful fairytale skyline which can be seen from a distance. A visit to San Gimignano is surely going to take you back in time because of its atmosphere and appearance. The Romanesque and Gothic structures still dominate the town.
The town has churches, unique museums, and many other wonderful attractions. San Gimignano is also famous for its quality saffron, the golden ham and its white wine (Vernaccia di San Gimignano), which is produced from the famous Vernaccia grapes. These grapes grow in the sandstone hillsides of the town. The Historic Center of San Gimignano has been declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
If you are planning to visit, I would suggest a 2-days stay here to explore the town to its full potential. The village is one of the most romantic hilltop towns very similar to the ones you see in the romantic movies. The town becomes highly picturesque at night because of the medieval atmosphere. The town has less crowd than other major cities and tourists’ destinations of Italy, hence you can enjoy a very calm and relaxing trip. The town has a good variety of good restaurants, cafes and bars.
History of San Gimignano
San Gimignano has a very interesting history. It is said that two rich brothers fled from Rome in the 1st century during the Catiline conspiracy against the Roman Republic. They came here and built two castles Mucchio and Silvia. The Saint of Modena, Bishop Geminianus, saved the Silvia castle from destruction by followers of Attila the Hun. After that, the castle was renamed to San Gimignano and a church was dedicated to the Saint. Gradually, the village around the castle grew surrounded by walls.
San Gimignano became a midway stop for Catholic pilgrims who used to travel between Rome and Vatican. The trading also flourished and saffron and Vernaccia grape wine became famous. As business families got richer the competition became higher. The competition resulted in a race to build the longest tower and around 72 towers were built by them. The rivalry also disturbed the peace of the city and finally the local council put a limitation to the heights of the towers and declared that no tower can be taller than the one adjacent to Palazzo Comunale.
The town was hit badly by the Black Death plague that had affected most of the Europe. The half of the population died, and the town submitted itself to the rule of Florence. There was very less development which helped the town to remain preserved. The town became famous in the 19th century and started attracting many tourists and artists because of its well-preserved medieval structures, saffron and white wine.
Parking in San Gimignano
There are a lot of parking lots in the surroundings of the town. The parking can get busy sometimes but most of the visitors are day-visitors or passersby, you will find a parking after some time. The parking lots are well organized, you can check the official parking site of San Gimignano for availability in each parking lot.
16 Wonderful Attractions of San Gimignano
The Duomo di San Gimignano
One of the most beautiful attractions is the Duomo of San Gimignano, which is also called Collegiata di San Gimignano. The Interior of the site is highly fascinating which should not be missed. The Piazza Duomo was the center of political and religious life of the city in middle ages. It is located at the intersection of old Pisa-Siena road and the Via Fracigena.
The Plaza has three magnificent medieval buildings facing one another: One of them on the north side is Torri Gemmele dei Salvucci. The second on the opposite side is the Palazzo Nuovo del Potesta and the third one beside it is Torre Grossa which is the tallest of all. The building in the center which dominates the piazza is called Collegiata, also known as the Duomo from where the piazza derives its name.
Piazza della Cisterna
Piazza della Cisterna is located along with the Piazza Duomo and is considered as the most beautiful and famous piazza of San Gimignano. This piazza is enclosed by a wall of medieval towers and nobility houses. Piaza Duomo was a religious and political center and on the other hand Piazza della Cisterna was popular as a cultural center and marketplace. The Piazza was also famous for festivals, tournaments and public performances.
The piazza is in a triangular shape and has a water cistern in the center of the site and hence the site is called Piazza della Cisterna. The patterned brick pavement in the piazza leads to Via del Castello where you can find more towers and nobility homes.
Santa Maria Assunta
This beautiful Romanisque church of Santa Maria Assunta was built in 12th century. It was then enlarged by Giuliano da Mainano in 1457. He added side chapels and transept in the church. There are many fascinating frescos and objects in the church. You will see a 15th-century fresco by Benozzo Gozzoli on the entrance wall. Next, you will see two wooden statues of the Annunciation by Lacopo della Quercia.
There is a 14th-century monumental cycle by Barna da Siena in the right-hand aisle. In the left-hand aisle, there is a series of restored Testament scenes by Bartolo di Fredi. The altar piece has a tabernacle with decoration and the remains of Saint Fina.
Sant'Agostino of San Gimignano
The church of Sant’Agostino is located at the northern tip of the old town. The church was built between 1280 and 1298 in plain Gothic style. The exterior seems plain, but the interior is very beautifully decorated. There is an incredible marble altar, which is made by Benedetto da Mainano in 1494.
The main attractions of the church include the beautiful 15th century frescoes by Benozzo Gozzoli in the choir which depict the life of St. Augustine in 19 scenes. The church is an ideal place for the art lovers.
San Jacopo of San Gimignano
The church of San Jacopo is located near the northern town gate of Porta San Jacopo. It is said that the church was built in 13th century by the knights templar after they returned from their first crusade. The church has a beautiful rose-window and a Pisan-styled doorway. The arched lintel of the doorway has coat of arms on it. The church has a fine fresco of the Crucifixion by Memmo di Filippuccio. The church has a hospice that was used to serve the travelers between Rome and Vatican. There is an unusual enclosed passageway above the town gate. This passageway was used by nuns to enter the church privately.
Towers of San Gimignano
The towers in San Gimignano have survived the test of time unlike in other parts of Italy where war, natural disasters and urban development brought down the old towers. Initially there were 72 towers but 14 of them have survived and San Gimignano has done very impressive work by preserving these 14 towers. These towers were built by the rich families of the city to compete with each other and to show their power and wealth. Here is the list of those 14 towers.
- Campanile della Collegiata
- Torre Grossa
- Torri degli Ardinghelli
- Torre dei Cugnanesi
- Torre dei Diavolo
- Torre Ficarelli
- Torre di Palazzo Pellari
- Casa-Torre Pesciolini
- Torre dei Becci
- Torre Campatelli
- Torre Chigi
- Torre Pettini
- Torre Rognosa
- Torri dei Salvucci
Torre Grossa is the tallest of all the towers of San Gimignano. The height of this medieval skyscraper is 55 meters. You can climb up this tower to have the panoramic views of the city and the countryside. The tower is located adjacent to the Palazzo del Popolo which is located to the left to the Santa Maria Assunta.
La Rocca di Montestaffoli
The Rocca Castle was built by the Florentines in 1353 on the highest point of the hill, but was demolished in 1555 on the orders of Cosimo I. Today only some fragments of the castle wall and a tower has survived. This top of the hill point offers magnificent views of the town and the countryside. There are lovely olive groves which provide sunshade to the visitors.
This point is famous among artists and painters. This is also an ideal place to walk and relax with beautiful views. An outdoor cinema is set in the summers to watch movies in this spectacular hilltop spot.
San Gimignano 1300
San Gimignano 1300 is a beautiful fusion of history and art. The central attraction of the museum is the well-researched, large-scale magnificent model of the city as it appeared in the 1300. This model is made by hand with fired clay and marble dust that came from the nearby caves. To ensure the accuracy of history, the model is painted with natural pigments. The model shows historical structures and the lifestyle of San Gimignano. The museum depicts the history of the town through storyboards, multi-media and historical objects.
Casa Campatelli is restored from a much earlier tower house which was owned by a Florentine family. The appearance and atmosphere have been restored with original furnishings and family belongings. There is a video projection that depicts the life in palazzo, history of the town and its traditions.
Herbarium of Santa Fina
This museum is one of the most unique museums of Italy. This museum displays more than 100 ceramics and glass pieces from the 14th century that demonstrate the herb pharmacy and herbarium of Santa Fina. A pharmacy is shown where the herbal medicines were prepared and then sold through a shop. There are some samples of the herbs and the storage containers on display.
The Archaeological museum of San Gimignano displays the medieval, Roman and Etruscan findings from the area and its surroundings. There is information about how the glass and pottery was made during these times. There is a modern and contemporary art gallery upstairs which hosts temporary art exhibitions.
Both Herbarium and the Archaeological Museum are part of the Santa Chiara Museum.
If you are not highly sensitive, then torture museum is an amazing attraction to learn about the cruel nature of human. Here, you can learn about several torture procedures that humans invented to torture other men. There are two of these museums in San Gimignano. One of them has three floors and exhibits complete methods of torture around the world. There is detailed explanation with pictures, tools and a dummy. The second museum is a themed attraction and is incredibly unique.
San Gimignano Wine Museum
The white wine, Vernaccia di San Gimignano, is already famous, which is made by using the traditional Vernaccia grapes. You can learn information about this wine and many other famous wines of Tuscany. This attraction is a new addition to the list of amazing things to do in San Gimignano. Moreover, if you are in Florence or any of the towns or cities of Tuscany, you will always find wine tasting museums and amazing cooking classes. The cooking classes are also a great way of enjoying and learning about how to make traditional Italian pastas.
Agriturismo of San Gimignano
Agriturismo is a traditional farm which is open to the visitors who want to practically experience the rural lifestyle of Italy. An Agriturismo serves food with fresh and raw materials that are produced in the farm. The menus keep changing according to the seasons of vegetables and ingredients. Your amazing food always comes fresh from the farms. These farms also have rooms where the guests can stay and pools, where the guests can relax. These are great places to relax, read books, enjoy the rural life and observe the farmers doing their jobs.
One of the best Agriturismi in the town is Taverna di Bibbiano. This is no doubt a wonderful place to have your dinner or a glass of wine while watching sunset over the towers of the town. This is a very romantic spot with outdoor tables set on the hillside that is planted with a beautiful lavender field.
Hike Around San Gimignano
One of the best experiences in San Gimignano is to hike around the area and in the surrounding countryside. This is a very pleasant place to enjoy your walk or hike. The medieval skyline is visible from distance and provides nice and amazing feeling during exploration. Most tourists come on a day trip and miss the amazing hiking route and the walk in the streets of the towns. The total hike route between San Gimignano and Poggibonsi is around 10 miles.
If you are walking within the town in the streets, it takes around 1 kilometer of walk to explore most of the beautiful streets and the nice spots. The walls that surround the historic center of San Gimignano were built in 13th century. You can walk along with these walls to enjoy the splendid views and to learn about the interesting information about the gates. These gates date from 12th century to 16th century.