Once an ancient Etruscan settlement, San Gimignano’s first walls were erected much later, in 998 AD. It became one of Italy’s smaller city-statues in the 12th century.
Featured in fictional form in E.M Forster’s 1905 novel Where Angels Fear to Tread, this Tuscany town provides the perfect backdrop for a modern visit as well. Situated roughly halfway between Florence and Siena, San Gimignano is the perfect place to stop and see some sights, not least of which is the famed towers.
Many of the medieval towers that dot the landscape throughout this region have been lost to wars, construction projects, and other changes. Here, they form the centerpiece of one of Tuscany’s most unusual offerings. Fourteen remain from the 72 originally commissioned and each one is a unique work of art.
The Communal Palace is another of San Gimignano’s outstanding offerings. 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. Not much further is the Torre del Podestà, a full 54 meters (177 feet) high.
There is a small Archaeological Museum featuring a variety of fascinating objects. Artifacts housed here display the full history of the town from its Etruscan origins through the Roman period and up to the Medieval period that gave the town its current appearance.
The Sacred Art Museum houses art and artifacts from many of the regions’ churches and includes paintings, silverware, terracotta and many fine funeral monuments.
There’s even a small collection of modern and contemporary art on view at the Gallery Raffaele De Grada. Drawing from recent decades, it houses many of the current artworks important to the town. It also organizes art events throughout the year.
From the center of town walkers have easy access to the four main public squares: Piazza Delle Erbe, Piazza Pecori, Piazza Della Cisterna and Piazza del Duomo where the Collegiata is located. Any direction you care to go, you’re sure to see something of interest.
Head to the outskirts and you’ll find one of the best views of the many towers. With binoculars, it’s easy to spot many of the fine details, while from a vantage point on one of the many hills you can take in the breathtaking view. It’s no accident that many professional photos of Tuscany are taken from this area.
A little farther out lie some of the area’s best wineries. The white Vernaccia di San Gimignano is grown here. At different times of the year, usually in the summer, it’s possible to sample some of the excellent vintages.
Though not the most well-known location among those seeking a tour of Tuscany, San Gimignano is not only a convenient rest stop but provides outstanding things to see and do all its own.