San Gimignano: Tuscany's City of Towers
San Gimignano is a small, medieval, hilltop town located in the province of Siena in the heart of Tuscany. Known as the “City of Beautiful Towers”, San Gimignano is the epitome of the classic Tuscan town and draws visitors from all over the world.
Of the original seventy-two towers in the town, only fourteen have survived the centuries of wars, natural disasters, and the inevitable urban sprawl. The historic center of San Gimignano was added as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1990 due to its historic significance and architectural beauty. No visit to Tuscany is complete without walking the streets of this beautiful medieval town.
The first issue most travelers have with visiting San Gimignano is figuring out exactly how to pronounce its name. Hopefully this helps: Sahn Gee-mee-NYAH-no. Once you’ve mastered the pronunciation the rest is easy.
Because it’s a relatively small community, San Gimignano can be explored in depth in a day or less. In fact, many visitors travel to San Gimignano as a day trip from either Florence, Pisa, or Siena. Because of this the town can get very crowded, especially during the peak travel season. But, despite its popularity, it remains a must see on any visit to Tuscany as there is literally no other place quite like it in the world.
If you’re visiting San Gimignano from one of the surrounding communities you have a few options for how to get there. If you do not have access to a vehicle then you can take a bus from either Florence, Pisa, or Siena. There are also numerous bus tour groups that you can take if you don’t mind being part of a tour. San Gimignano does not have a train station, so to get here utilizing the train requires taking the train to Poggibonsi and then transferring to a bus. If you have a car getting here is fairly easy and there is plenty of parking outside the walls of the town. Look for the blue and white parking signs.
Facts and Figures
Population: Approximately 7500
Size: 53 square miles
Elevation: 1063 feet above sea level
Founded: 3rd century BC
Average daily July Temp: 88F
Average daily January Temp: 47F
What to See?
What separates San Gimignano from other Tuscan towns and makes it so identifiable is the presence of its fourteen medieval towers. Of the fourteen towers the Torre Grossa is the tallest in the city at 177 feet and dates back to 1298. For a fee of five euro visitors can climb the tower for a great view of San Gimignano and the surrounding Tuscan countryside.
San Gimignano also has four main piazzas, which serve as a gathering area for visitors looking to relax for a bit and take in the unique architecture. The town grew around two of these squares, the Piazza della Cisterna, and the Piazza del Duomo.
The triangular Piazza della Cisterna has a lovely well that stands in the centre and makes for a great gathering spot and photo opportunity. The Piazza del Duomo stands at the foot of La Collegiata, the nearest thing to a duomo (cathedral) in this small city. La Collegiata dates to the 11th century and contains a beautiful series of frescoes on Old and New Testament subjects. Seven of the fourteen towers are around the Piazza del Duomo, which makes for a beautiful setting.
Other Things to See and Do
Other notable attractions in San Gimignano include the Palazzo del Popolo Civic Museum. The Civic Museum is located inside the Palazzo del Popolo. The museum contains some outstanding artwork and frescoes from the 13th to 15th centuries. The courtyard of the Palazzo del Popolo is worth visiting to see the coat of arms that adorn its walls.
For something a little different check out the Torture Museum, which contains a unique collection of torture instruments. San Gimignano 1300 is another interesting museum that has an amazing exhibit showing a ceramic recreation of the city as it existed in the year 1300. And for a great panorama of the Tuscan countryside head to the Rocca (literally, a big rock) in the southwestern part of the city.
Palazzo del PopoloClick thumbnail to view full-size
When visiting San Gimignano, be sure to take into consideration the time of year that you will visit. During the peak summer months the town can get very crowded, so you may want to schedule your visit for early morning or even late afternoon and evening. Visiting in the evening after all of the tour buses have departed may be your best bet during peak months, and will also allow you to avoid the summer heat.
No matter when you visit, San Gimignano offers visitors the chance to step back in time while enjoying its local products including saffron and white wine, the Vernaccia di San Gimignano. Vernaccia is a white Italian wine made from the Vernaccia grape that is produced in and around San Gimignano. It is considered to be one of Italy’s finest white wines.
I hope you enjoyed this brief visit to San Gimignano. There is a reason why this beautiful medieval community is so popular, and that is because it is truly a one-of-a-kind place.
Ciao for now.
© 2012 Bill De Giulio