UNESCO World Heritage Site #246: Historic Centre of San Gimignano

UNESCO World Heritage Site #246: Historic Centre of San Gimignano

UNESCO World Heritage Site #246: Historic Centre of San Gimignano

From the World Heritage inscription:

an Gimignano bears exceptional testimony to the civilization of the Middle Ages in that it groups together within a small area all the structures typical of urban life: squares and streets, houses and palaces, wells and fountains.

San Gimignano is situated in the Val d’Elsa, 56 km south of Florence. Its walls and fortified houses form an unforgettable skyline, in the heart of the Etruscan landscape. San Gimignano was a relay point on the Via Francigena for pilgrims journeying to and from Rome. Originally under the jurisdiction of the bishops of Volterra, it became independent in 1199 when it acquired its first podestà. The free town, known as San Gimignano delle Belle Torri, entered into a long period of prosperity that lasted until 1353, when it fell under the sway of Florence. In 1262 an enceinte measuring 2,177 m, later to be reinforced with five cylindrical towers, girdled the small town.

The town was controlled by two major rival families – the Ardinghelli, Guelph sympathizers, and the Salvucci, who were Ghibellines – and was the scene of incessant conflicts between the two clans. As symbols of their wealth and power, 72 tower houses were built. Of these, 14 have survived, including the Cugnanesi house on the former Via Francigena (Via San Giovanni); the Pesciolini house on the Via San Matteo, on the Via del Castello, in the town’s oldest quarter, the Palazzo Franzesi-Ceccarelli house, whose unsymmetrical facade ingeniously circumvented the law of 1255 which stipulated that no new residence should be wider than 12 arm spans for a linear depth of 24 arm spans.

The town grew around two principal squares, the Piazza della Cisterna and the Piazza del Duomo. The triangular Piazza della Cisterna is ornamented with a lovely well that stands in the centre. The piazza is bordered by tower houses: the twin towers of the Ardinghellis to the west, the tower of the Benuccis, the Casa Rodolfi and the Palazzo Razzi to the south, and the Palazzo dei Cortesi to the north.

San Gimignano is a wonderful little Tuscan town best known for its towers. The towers are very reminiscent of the ones I saw in Regensburg, Germany. The town has much more of a medieval feel than most towns in Italy.

San Gimignano is a tourist town, but it doesn’t get anywhere near the level of visitors that other Tuscan towns like Sienna or Florence get. Most people have never heard of it, so the crowds will be much smaller.

It is also much more difficult to get to via public transportation because the town doesn’t have a train station. The closest train station is in the town of Poggibonsi. From the Poggibonsi station, walk outside and you can take the 130 bus to San Gimignano. You purchase the bus ticket in the cafe in the station, not in the bus. Likewise, the bus back to Poggibonsi is purchased in the tabacci store just inside the city walls.

I visited San Gimignano from Lucca which was long, but doable as a day trip. Florence, Sienna or even Pisa would be easier places to reach it from.

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Comments

  1. And to go along with all that history, in the center of San Gmignano is a gelato shop that is renowned for winning the world championship of gelato several times. A little gelato with history make both better.

  2. We were just here about a month ago. I love how some of the tours name it the Manhattan on the middle ages thanks to its towers.

    The little alleyways and torture chambers really made it feel more “medieval” than other places. I’d go back even for a day or two, and just keep on getting some of that world champion gelato :D

    - Ray

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