San Gimingano – Famous for its Towers and Fine Food:
San Gimignano is a charming Tuscan hill town that’s famous for its medieval buildings and towers. Situated roughly halfway between Siena and Florence, it was a perfect place for us to stop as we travelled from Siena to Florence. We also heard that San Gimingano has something to sweeten up travel-weary souls – the best gelato in the world!
San Gimignano Towers
San Gimignano was on the main pilgrim route from northern Europe to Rome (commonly referred to as the Via Francigena) and the town accommodated and fed the pilgrims who stopped here, bringing great prosperity to the town. During the 12th and 13th centuries, it was common for the nobility and wealthy families in the region to erect huge towers as a symbol of their wealth and power. There were once 77 towers in San Gimignano. Many of the medieval towers that dot the landscape throughout the Tuscan region have been lost to wars, construction projects and other changes. Fortunately, in San Gimignano, 13 towers still exist and they form the centerpiece of one of Tuscany’s most unusual attractions.
What to see in San Gimignano
There are several gateways into this town and we entered through the southern Porta San Giovanni onto the very busy Via San Giovanni. If you can avoid the temptation of going into the many food and souvenir shops that line this street, you’ll soon arrive at Piazza della Cisterna, the main square and
the heart of the old town. It was named after the well in the centre of the square – a popular spot for tourists to rest their weary feet. In addition to the historical buildings that surround this square, this is where you can savour San Gimignano’s famous gelato. There are a number of gelateria claiming to have the best gelato in the world and we had some from Dondoli. Next to Piazza della Cisterna is Piazza del Duomo where the Collegiata is located. The Collegiata is San Gimignano’s duomo and it contains a series of frescoes covering subjects from the Old and New Testament. The Palazzo Comunale (town hall) is another of San Gimignano’s outstanding attractions. Home of the Town Gallery it houses works by Filippino Lippi, Pier Francesco Fiorentino and others. From Dante’s Hall it’s a short walk to the fresco by Lippo Memmi. Next to the Palazzo Comunale is the Torre Grossa, the tallest of the remaining San Gimignano towers, and the only tower which is open to the public. You can climb to the top of this 54-metre high tower for a panoramic view of San Gimignano and the surrounding hills which Tony did – you can see his video Live from San Gimignano’s Tallest Tower Here. Also on Piazza del Duomo is the old Palazzo Vecchio del Podesta whose tower (Torre Rognosa) is probably the oldest in town.
San Gimignano Food
San Gimignano is famous for its Vernaccia wines, said to be the best white wines in Italy. Dante Alighieri, Michelangelo and many other poets have written in praise of the Vernaccia wine. Cinghiale (wild boar) is very much a part of Tuscan cuisine, as evidenced by the number of stuffed wild boars you’ll see at shop entrances. Everywhere you go you’ll see shops stocked with Tuscan ham and other pork products. Other traditional Tuscan produce include saffron, Pecorino cheeses, olive oil and porcini mushrooms. As you stroll around town you will see many enoteche and providores bursting with food. If you have time to stop for a meal, there are many restaurants around town where you can sample Tuscan cuisine.
Other San Gimignano Attractions
- The Museo D’Arte Sacra (Sacred Art Museum) houses art and artifacts from many of the region’s disused churches and monasteries and include paintings, silverware, terracotta and many fine funeral monuments.
- Those interested in San Gimignano’s wine culture, can learn about San Gimignano’s vine cultivation and wine production at the Museo del Vino. They also offer wine tasting here.
- There are a number of churches scattered around town, including the House of S.Fina where the saint lived from 1238 to 1253.
San Gimignano is a small town that is easily explored on foot. From the centre of town you can walk in any direction you care to go and you’re sure to see something of interest. This photogenic town is popular as a film location and movies such as Tea with Mussolini was filmed here and Where Angels Fear to Tread featured a fictionalized version of San Gimignano. San Gimignano is one of our favourite hill towns in Tuscany and we even came back here a second time before leaving Italy. See more images of San Gimignano at Travelsignposts San Gimignano gallery Here.
San Gimignano Hotels
If you are looking for hotels in the historical centre, the three in Piazza della Cisterna include: La Cisterna in an 14th century building, Al Pozzo dei Desideri, set in a 12th century building and the 11th century Leon Bianco. For the complete list of San Gimignano hotels, see HERE.
How to Get to San Gimignano
- By Public Transport – From Siena or Florence, take a train or bus to Poggibonsi. From Poggibonsi there are frequent buses to San Gimignano. The bus ride takes 20 minutes and drops off at Piazzale dei Martiri near Porta San Giovanni, the southern gateway into town.
- Sightseeing Tour – An easier and more comfortable option would be to join one of the many tours on offer from Siena or Florence to San Gimignano.
Map of San Gimignano: