Piazza Duomo, San Gimignano (Italy)
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San Gimignano is a small (population is about eight thousands people) medieval town in the province of Siena, Tuscany (Italy). San Gimignano is located on one of the hills (1096f or 334m) in the valley of the River Elsa (the Val d'Elsa). The town started as an Etruscan village during the Hellenistic period (200-300 BC) and grew into a town in 10th century AC.
As often the case with small Italian towns, the origin of San Gimignano is clouded by legends. One them, widely spread on the Internet, is that the village surrounding a castle (built by Silvius, a Roman patrician), having been under onslaught of Atilla's hordes of Huns, was saved miraculously by a sudden apparition of St. Geminianus, the martyred Bishop of Modena. According to the legend, after this miracle, the place was renamed from Silvia to San Gimignano. However, according to a more realistic explanation, the name originates from the church built on this place between the sixth and seventh centuries in the honor of the Bishop when the devotion to St. Geminianus was widely spread in the area. The place kept attracting people and gradually grew in a town fortified by a castle known as Castello di San Gimignano or Castello della Selva.
From the 10th to 12th century, San Gimignano was subject to Volterra. However, its people were winning gradually independence and by the year 1200 attained their independence and became a free municipality. The town increased in wealth and developed greatly during the Middle Ages thanks to the Via Francigena, the trading and pilgrim route that passed San Gimignano. In 13th century, as everywhere in Tuscany, faction wars raged in San Gimignano especially between the Ardinghelli family (Guelphs) and houses of Ghibellines (primarily the Salvucci family). In 1353 San Gimignano was subdued to Florence, following later the rule of Grand Duchy of Tuscany till 1860.
Until the end of 12th century, San Gimignano had consisted of Old Castle (Castello Vecchio) surrounded by old walls. In 13th century, the new circle of walls was built to include Castello Nuovo - this second circuit of walls still surrounds the place today. The construction of towers for which San Gimignano is known, dates back to the 11th - 13th centuries. Originally, 72 towers were built by wealthy families as symbols of power and riches. Only 13 (or 15 depending on how you count them since two are cropped) towers remain today.
If you are interested in the history of San Gimignano, we recommend an excellent book on this subject, "The story of Siena and San Gimignano" by Edmund Garratt Gardner (1902), available at Google eBooks.
Please visit also our photo galleries dedicated to San Gimignano.
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What Makes It Special
As Gino Capponi, the author of the Storia della Repubblica di Florence (The History of the Republic of Florence), wrote, "No other town or castle in Tuscany retains more of the Middle Ages and was less invaded by the ages that followed; in those towers, and in the churches and in the houses of massive stone, it is still something that cannot be covered up by the thin plastering of modern times; ancient memories keep their possession of it, the new life has hardly entered in." Historic center of San Gimignano is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1990.
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Directions To Destination
- By car from the South (Rome): take Autostrada A1, exit at VALDICHIANA and drive towards SIENA. Near Siena follow signs to FIRENZE take Raccordo (blue sign SI-FI). Exit at POGGIBONSI-NORD and follow directions to San Gimignano. It takes about 3.5 hours to get from Rome to San Gimignano using A1 (310km or 193m). If you are interested in Tuscan countryside, venture Strada Statale 1 (SS1) through Civitavecchia and Grosseto. This distance is shorter (291km or 181m) but it may take more time (4 - 4.5 hours)
- By car from North: take Autostrada A1, exit at FIRENZE CERTOSA and then immediately enter Raccordo (blue sign SI-FI) to SIENA. After about 40km (25m) exit at POGGIBONSI-NORD and follow signs to San Gimignano (about 10km or 6.2m).
- By train: get off the train at POGGIBONSI station, where you can catch a taxi or bus. Buses for San Gimignano leave every hour.
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Best Time To Go
Mid and second half of September. During high tourist season in summer, San Gimignano is packed with tourists with sometimes about 200 buses arriving to the town in one day. Because of this, September can be a perfect time for a visit to San Gimignano - the volume of crowds diminishes significantly; at the same time, the weather is still very good. In fact, you may appreciate less heat during the day and colder evenings.
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Where To Stay
To experience better the charm of the town, we recommend to stay within the town's walls (instead of coming to San Gimignano on a bus as a day trip). We recommend two hotels (both are not perfect but are the best you can find):
- Hotel L'Antico Pozzo (Via San Matteo, 87 San Gimignano 53037, Italy). This three-star hotel is set in a carefully preserved 15th century building on central Via San Matteo. From €80 to €180 (2011). Hotel has 18 rooms. Read our review of Hotel L'Antico Pozzo.
- Leon Bianco (Piazza della Cisterna,13, 53037 San Gimignano): 3-star hotel located on Piazza della Cisterna, one of the two San Gimignano’s main squares. Hotel occupies a 11th century building and has 25 rooms. From €100 to €160 (2011).
If you are looking for cheap accomodations, inquire about rooms. Many San Gimignano businesses (for example, restaurants, bars and just town's residents) offer dicent rooms to stay for one or more nights. Prices start as low as €5 per person/night.
Research and book hotels in or near San Gimignano, Italy
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Useful Visitor Information and Tips
Usual itinerary in San Gimignano is through its main streets, via San Matteo and via San Giovanni crossing the city from north to south. Both streets and are connected by two central squares - piazza Duomo on the via San Matteo side and piazza della Cisterna on via San Giovanni side.
Places to visit include:
- Duomo or Collegiate Church of San Gimignano (Santa Maria Assunta). The present building was begun in the early 12th century and was consecrated by Pope Eugene III in 1148. The Romanesque interior is known for its frescoes covering most of the walls. The arcades are made of black and white striped marble. Entrance tickets are €3.50 (2010)
- Palazzo Comunale o Palazzo Nuovo del Podestà (Town Hall) built in 1288 and expanded in 1323; it currently hosts Museo Civico including La sala di Dante (Dante Hall) with La Maestà (Lippo Memmi). The second floor of the building has the art gallery including works of Pinturicchio, Benozzo Gozzoli, Filippino Lippi, Domenico di Michelino, Pier Francesco Fiorentino, etc. Entrance tickets are €5 (2010)
- Torre Grossa (Big Tower) - the tallest tower in San Gimignano (177ft or 54m). Its construction began in 1300 and finished in 1311. The tower is opened to the public (can be accessed through Palazzo Comunale using the Museo Civico tickets). From the top of the tower visitors can enjoy wonderful views of the Tuscan countryside.
- Sacred Art Museum (Piazza Pecori, 1 - museum is located near Collegiata) - contains artifacts and art from local churches from XII to XIX century. Among them are the works of Bartolo di Fredi, Benetto da Maiano e Francesco Valdambrino.
- Rocca di Montestaffoli (Fortress of Montestaffoli) - located not far from piazza Duomo behind Collegiata. The fortress was built in the middle of 14th century and was partially dismantled in 16th century. Do not miss the only remaining fortress' tower, nowadays a wonderful observation platform with views on San Gimignano and Tuscan countryside. There are no admissions fee to the fortress. A small wine museum is located just outside the remaining walls of Rocca.
- San Gimignano del 1300 (via Berignno, 23, San Gimignano 53037, Siena Italy) - an excellent museum with a very accurate reconstruction of the town as it existed in 1300. Adult tickets are €5, children - €3 (2010)
- Archaeological Museum, Via Folgore, 11 - an etruscan-roman and medieval collection
- Chiesa di Sant'Agostino (Church of Sant'Agostino) built in 1298. The church combines Romanesque and Gothic styles. Inside there are frescos and works created by Benedetto da Maiano, Benozzo Gozzoli, Piero del Pollaiolo, Pier Francesco Fiorentino, Vincenzo Tamagni, Sebastiano Mainardi.
San Gimignano is well-known for the production of Vernaccia di San Gimignano, one of the most well-known white wines in Italy.
Among recommended places to eat are (also visit our page on restaurants in San Gimignano):
- Restaurant Dorando, vicolo dell'Oro, 2 San Gimignano 53037 Siena, Italy
(Dorando on map) - one of the best restaurants in San Gimignano; recommended by 2010 Michelin. The restaurant is located in the very center of San Gimignano.
- Restaurant Cum Quibus, via San Martino, 17 San Gimignano 53037 Siena, Italy
(Cum Quibus on map) - another popular and good restaurant located very close to the entrance to the historic center not far from Porta San Matteo.
- Restaurant Perucà, via Capassi 16 San Gimignano 53037 Siena, Italy
(Perucà on map) - this place offers a good environment and fresh interpretation of the traditional Tuscan dishes.
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