The long history of San Gimignano
San Gimignano was founded as a small village in the 3rd century BC by the Etruscans. Historical records begin in the 10th century, when it adopted the name of the bishop Saint Geminianus, who had defended it from Attila’s Huns.
In the Middle Ages and Renaissance era, it was a stopping point for Catholic pilgrims on their way to Rome and the Vatican, as it sits on the medieval Via Francigena. The city’s development also was improved by the trade of agricultural products from the fertile neighbouring hills.
In 1199, during the period of its highest splendour, the city made itself independent from the bishops of Volterra. Divisions between Guelphs and Ghibellines troubled the inner life of the commune, which nonetheless, still managed to embellish itself with artworks and architectures.
Saint Fina, known also as Seraphina and Serafina, was a thirteenth century Italian saint born in San Gimignano during 1238. Since Saint Fina died on March 12, 1253 her feast day became March 12. Her major shrine is in San Gimignano and the house said to be her home still stands in the town.
On May 8, 1300, San Gimignano hosted Dante Alighieri in his role of ambassador of the Guelph League in Tuscany.
The city flourished until 1348, when the plague that affected all of Europe, compelled it to submit to Florence. San Gimignano became a secondary centre until the nineteenth century, when its status as a touristic and artistic resort began to be recognized.
While in other cities, such as Bologna or Florence, most or all of their towers have been brought down due to wars, catastrophes, or urban renewal, San Gimignano has managed to conserve fourteen towers of varying height which have become its international symbol.
There are many churches in the town: the two main ones are the Collegiata, formerly a cathedral, and Sant’Agostino, housing a wide representation of artworks from some of the main Italian renaissance artists.
The Communal Palace, once seat of the podestà, is currently home of the Town Gallery, with works by Pinturicchio, Benozzo Gozzoli, Filippino Lippi, Domenico di Michelino, Pier Francesco Fiorentino, and others. From Dante’s Hall in the palace, access may be made to a Majesty fresco by Lippo Memmi, as well as the Torre del Podestà or Torre Grossa, 1311, which stands fifty-four meters high.
The heart of the town contains the four squares, Piazza della Cisterna, Piazza Duomo where the Collegiata is located, Piazza Pecori, and Piazza delle Erbe. The main streets are Via San Matteo and Via San Giovanni, which cross the city from north to south.
Food and Wine in San Gimignano
Vernaccia di San Gimignano
San Gimignano is well-known for the production of the wine Vernaccia di San Gimignano. This is one of the most well-known white wines in Italy. It is golden yellow in colour and with a rich bouquet, and is suitable as an aperitif and also goes well with fish dishes. This wine has very ancient origins, and there are records of it dating back to the 13 C.
Panforte and ricciarelli
Besides traditional Siennese sweets like panforte and ricciarelli, the city also has one of its own, pinolata, which is made with cream custard and pine nuts. In the appropriate season there are also dishes made from mushrooms and aromatic truffles gathered from the nearby hills.
On foot – it’s very small, and you must disembark from your car or bus outside the city walls, in any case. An electric shuttlebus goes all day from Porta San Giovanni to Piazza della Cisterna to Porta San Matteo. Cost is €0.50 and runs 2/hour, buy your tickets at Tourist Info or Tabbachi shop