San Gimignano, a Walled Tower Town in Southern Tuscany

San Gimignano is a charming walled hilltop town. It is about halfway between Florence and Siena and is famous for its fascinating medieval architecture and towers that rise above of all the other buildings. These towers offer an impressive view of the city and the surrounding valley.  As the town was about a day’s trek to Siena or Florence in the Middle Ages, it was a good stopover for pilgrims en route from those cities to Rome.

From Florence one can easily make a day trip to San Gimignano.  The old town centre is not big.  You can reach the main sites within a few minutes. The highlights and some interesting facts are as follow.

 

View from the entrance of San Gimignano, Tuscany
View from the entrance of San Gimignano, Tuscany

Movie sets in San Gimignano

Not only Florence is one of the most seen cities in the movies, but also some small places in Tuscany appear as the scenery of many movies set.  San Gimignano is among them.

One of the earlier movies, for example,  “Prince of Foxes”, was partially shot in San Gimignano. Movie “Tea with Mussolini” was about a group of aristocratic cultured English ladies who tried to heroically defend the city’s ancient towers from the German army attack. The Piazza Cisterna is where many of the film’s scenes shot.

A perfect position to picture the towers in San Gimignano, Tuscany
A perfect position to picture the towers in San Gimignano, Tuscany

Two main squares

The triangular Piazza della Cisterna

The triangular Piazza della Cisterna is a beautiful triangular piazza ornamented with a lovely old stone well (no longer used) in the middle. Rustic-yet-proud facades crowd in a tight huddle around the well.  This is where a Thursday Market gathers. If you have seen the movie “Tea with Mussolini”, maybe you can recognize it.

Piazza Duomo

It has a skyline of medieval towers, including the stone Torre Grossa. The Duomo di San Gimignano is a 12th-century church with frescoes cycles which include works from Domenico Ghirlandaio, Benozzo Gozzoli, Taddeo di Bartolo, Lippo Memmi and Bartolo di Fredi. UNESCO describes these frescoes as “works of outstanding beauty”.

Piazza Duomo in San Gimig
Piazza Duomo in San Gimignano, Tuscany
The triangular Piazza della Cisterna, San Gimignano, Tuscany
The triangular Piazza della Cisterna, San Gimignano, Tuscany

14 Towers

By the end of the Medieval Era, a dispute started between two economically powerful families living in San Gimignano. As a result of this rivalry, each family built better and higher towers to show its economic stability and power. The trend resulted in a total of 72 towers in all. In 1255 a law was passed that no tower could be built higher than the Torre Rognosa. The passing of the law led to an end to the long rivalry.

Located at Piazza del Duomo, next to the Palazzo del Podestà, the 54 meters high Torre Grossa is the highest tower in the town. After a steep climbing one can have the magnificent view of surrounding Tuscany countryside. The entrance ticket of the tower is also valid for other attractions.

A Bench on the Tower next to the highest tower in San Gimignano, Tuscany
A Bench on the Tower next to the highest tower in San Gimignano, Tuscany
View from the highest tower in San Gimignano, Tuscany
View from the highest tower in San Gimignano, Tuscany
A local shop sells Salami
A local shop sells Salami

Local products

San Gimignano is also a food and wine town.  Vernaccia, one of Italy’s finest white wines produced exclusively in and around the hill town of San Gimignano. Another product for which San Gimignano is known as saffron. Besides, many shops are offering typical local food, from cheese, hams, desert, spices to kitchen tools made from olive trees or clay pots.

These shops are not big so one can easily shop around and find some delicatessen. In the summertime, two local ice cream shops tend to have the most business. The Gelato Dondoli has won many prizes, and therefore there is always a long queue in front of it.  But there is another one several steps next to it offers equally good quality and tasty ice cream.

Many local restaurants have a very attractive menu. We had a quick snack in a small eatery which only offers some small dishes for wine tasting purpose. I tried Burrata, which is a fresh Italian buffalo milk cheese made from mozzarella and cream. The outer shell is solid mozzarella while the inside contains stracciatella and cream. The combination gives it an unusual and soft texture. I could not get enough of it. Therefore it becomes one of much memorable Italian food I have tried during my 9-Day trip to Tuscany.

A drawing found in one restaurant describe the best what an Italian likes:

A drawing made by guest in a restaurant in San Gimignano, Tuscany
A drawing made by guest in a restaurant in San Gimignano, Tuscany
The fresh Burrata cheese as starter
The fresh Burrata cheese as starter

Museums worth to visit

If you have time, there are several museums worth to visit:

  • The Museum of Sacred Art
  • The Museo della Tortura di San Gimignano, south of the center, is a torture museum displaying grim medieval instruments of torture.
  • Museo del Vino Vernaccia di San Gimignano, is a museum with exhibits on the town’s signature white wine.
  • Ornithological Museum, An ornithological collection of great historical and naturalistic interest which dates back to the second half of 19C AD.

Tickets & Tours

To experience the Tuscany culture and lifestyle, you should also join some of the best selling tours. Some tours combine with other popular destinations which offer great value at reasonable prices.

One of the popular tours is the San Gimignano, Siena, Chianti Guided Tour from Florence. You will explore the beautiful Tuscan countryside through the gently rolling hills of the Val D’Elsa in luxury in the air-conditioned coaches.

for a couple of Euros more, you can join the tour to Pisa, Siena, San Gimignano with Lunch and Wine in Chianti. Other than a visit of this well-preserved medieval town, you will also explore Pisa and see its world-famous Leaning Tower, visit a splendid Chianti estate and take part into two exclusive wine tastings, and see the site of the traditional Palio horse race in Siena. The tour takes around 13 hours. a good arrangement for those who are are short in time.

Where to stay

San Gimignano is also a good base to explore the neighbouring place, such as Siena and other hilltop villages. There are plenty of accommodations available. TO enjoy your holiday, please reserve your holiday stay.

Hotel La Cisterna is an elegant, 14th-century building set in a picturesque square in the heart of San Gimignano. Most rooms at La Cisterna offer views of the square or of the beautiful Tuscan countryside. Each is furnished in a Florentine style. Besides, a continental buffet breakfast is served daily.

Hotel La Cisterna
Hotel La Cisterna

How to get there

By bus

Buses to Sam Gimignano leave from Florence’s bus station (next to the train station) hourly and take 1.25 to 2 hours including a change in Poggibonsi for €6. From Siena, the bus ride (5 times per day) takes 75-minute and cost €5.20, again with a change in Poggibonsi.  The bus ride (4 times per day) from Volterra takes 2 hours and change in Colle di Val d’Elsa. Sunday buses are fewer and more crowded.

Buses leaving San Gimignano depart from Porta San Giovanni, with tickets sold at the bar just inside the gate or at the Tourist Info.  You should always check the buses schedule ahead.

By car

If you drive your car there, then you have to park outside of the walls. There are many parking lots, and the parking fee is around 2Euro/HR.

By train

The historical town has no train station, but you can easily reach San Gimignano by taking a train to Poggibonsi (labeled “Poggibonsi-S.G.”) and then a bus from the Poggibonsi train station to San Gimignano.

6 Comments

  1. This is an interesting place. I had no idea that one of their main products is saffron. Would love to visit in the future. Can’t wait to shop for spices and ofcourse try their cheese, ham and wine.

    Checking the available tours right now and hopefully we can consider this on our future vacations.

  2. What a neat place to visit! So picturesque and lots of great history. I can’t believe how many kinds of salami are in that store! I haven’t been to Europe and this is the kind of place I would love to see.

  3. I loved Italy during our trip couple of years back but there is so much more left there to explore. Nice post with great pictures drawing me back to Italy. Time I planned another trip soon including Tuscany.

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