Between Florence and Siena, among the green Tuscany's hills, San Gimignano, the wonderful medieval village UNESCO heritage since 1990
On the top of a hill, to crown it with its towers, there is a small 13th-century village perfectly preserved. It is San Gimignano, a hidden gem and in turn a treasure chest full of art jewels.
This place was once called "the city of 100 towers". Today, of these buildings with which noble families challenged each other by flaunting their prestige, only 14 remain, but this doesn't detract from the charm of what is rightly considered one of the most beautiful villages in Italy.
What to see in San Gimignano
The historic center of San Gimignano winds around the two main squares: Piazza della Cisterna, and the adjacent Piazza del Duomo. Together, these two squares and the surrounding buildings form a complex of enormous importance and beauty.
Piazza della Cisterna takes its name from the octagonal well that is still intact today, in the center of what used to be the heart of the town. Here there was the market, here the rides were held and here there was, and still is today, the Devil's Tower. The building owes its name to a legend according to which it was the devil himself who increased its height, one night when the owners were not at home.
In Piazza del Duomo, on the other hand, there is Palazzo del Popolo, one of the most important monuments of San Gimignano. Its Torre Grossa is the highest in town and is still the only one that does not belong to private families and therefore can be visited. Palazzo del Popolo also had an illustrious guest: Dante Alighieri, who stayed there during a diplomatic visit. His room can also be visited today. Not to be missed, and part of this very rich palace as well, is the Pinacoteca where you can admire the masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance, including those by Benozzo Gozzoli, Pinturicchio and Filippo Memmi.
In the Cathedral, which is right in front, there are also the precious frescoes by Ghirlandaio, in the chapel of Santa Fina.
Another church of great importance is that of San'Agostino, a few minutes from the Duomo. Inside there are works by Benozzo Gozzoli and Pollaiolo, as well as the wonderful majolica floor by Andrea della Robbia.
A walk through the alleys of San Gimignano, however, will inevitably lead you to discover suggestive views, small craft and gastronomy shops and to breathe the atmosphere of a place where time has stopped. With a short climb you can also reach the Rocca di Montestaffoli, once a defensive structure, today an amazing view point that also hosts cultural events.
A few steps from the center, beyond Porta delle Fonti, there are finally the Medieval Fountains, stone basins dug into the hillside and surmounted by twelve imposing arches.
What to aet in San Gimignano
San Gimignano is not a UNESCO heritage site only for its precious artistic beauties, but for its culture as well, which is also made up of good food.
Not eating (and not drinking) well in Tuscany is pretty much impossible and San Gimignano is no exception. Given the proximity to Siena, this place is affected by the Sienese food and wine culture. You can therefore easily delight your palate with a long series of excellent quality cheeses and meats.
Do not miss the pecorino cheese, but also the Prosciutto Toscano Dop, or the "buristo" a salami made with pig's blood. The meat of cinta sense is also exquisite; it's a pig breed so widespread in these parts that it is also represented in the frescoes of the great artists.
And how not to mention the wild boar? It's one of the undisputed protagonists of local cuisine, excellent for making cold cuts and pasta sauces.
Saffron is also typical of San Gimignano. In the past centuries it has brought great wealth into the pockets of local merchants. The one produced in the surrounding countryside is so valuable that it was once used instead of money.
As for the wines, however, the most famous here is Vernaccia which can be tasted in many different labels. Do not miss the San Gimignano DOC, either Rosso, Rosato or Vinsanto. Equally valuable are the numerous Chianti DOCG wines and Toscana IGT wines, much loved and widespread here.
A walk in the surroundings
For those who also want to explore all the art treasures that the area has to offer, there is plenty of choice. Siena is close, as is the wonderful Etruscan town of Volterra.
Also not to be missed is the small Monteriggioni, which struck the imagination of Dante Alighieri. Like San Gimignano, this tiny village is also located on the Via Francigena, the ancient pilgrims road. Trekking lovers, therefore, can also have fun walking along a stretch of it, to admire the unparalleled beauty of the Tuscan countryside.
Tuscany. Each hill a village. Each village a story. Each story a secret to tell.