This year, February is longer than usual, with an extra day to dedicate to holiday time.
3 Feb 2020
We’re in the mid-winter and the summer holidays are but a far-off mirage. So why not take a mini-break? Take advantage of February to enjoy a weekend break in one of the most magical places in Tuscany: the village of San Gimignano.
Why visit San Gimignano?
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, San Gimignano is a Tuscan highlight, immersed in the evocative landscapes of the Val D’Elsa, in the heart of the Sienese hills. Perched majestically on a hill and girded by its ancient walls, you first see it from afar as you approach.
Known as a “masterpiece of human creative genius”, the Etruscans were the first to inhabit this strategic village, which later became one of the finest examples of urban organization during the age of town-sized states in medieval Italy. Visitors are captivated by its atmosphere and 14th-century architecture, which have remained unchanged and authentic over the years.
San Gimignano: The city of beautiful towers.
In the famous Tuscan village’s golden age, the city’s leading families chose to erect imposing towers to demonstrate their power. Some of these towers have survived to this day, meriting San Gimignano its epithet as the “city of beautiful towers”.
So, what is there to see?
- Standing 54 metres high, the Big Tower is the tallest in the city. Today, it is one of the town’s best-preserved towers, and is one of the few you can actually ascend. Standing in Piazza del Duomo, the tower offers stunning views out over the village and its surrounding hills.
- The Torre Rognosa is commonly known as the Clock Tower. Built in 1200, it is 52 meters high.
- The Ardinghelli Towers are in Piazza della Cisterna. The Ardinghelli were the most important Ghibelline family in San Gimignano; their Towers reached Torre Rognosa’s famously forbidden height.
- The Salvucci Twin Towers were built by the Guelph family of that same name, a bitter enemy of the Ghibelline Ardinghelli family. Owing to this game of showing off their power, the city authorities ordered both towers to be reduced in height by half, which is why they are the height they are today.
- The Devil’s Tower is one of the most famous in the village, thanks in part to the “Assassin’s Creed” video game. Legend has it that the tower’s owner once returned to town after a long journey and found the tower higher than when he left. The tower’s growth was immediately blamed on the devil, which is how it got its name. The tower’s esoteric and sinister appearance characterize its identity today.
- One of San Gimignano’s most suggestive towers is the Chigi Tower, whose front door is on the first floor. Because of the struggles between families in the city, the entrance was placed on the first floor to ensure that the family who lived there could sleep peacefully. By day, they used a ladder to climb down to street level; by night, they pulled it up to make the tower inaccessible.
- The Cugnanesi Tower, built in the 13th century, is famous for being a vital part of the village’s defensive system.
San Gimignano, art and food.
San Gimignano owes its economic and artistic wealth to the Via Francigena, a pilgrim route that runs right through the middle of town. Back in 1300 when its famous towers were erected, San Gimignano’s walls were extended and new churches built in the town centre.
This charming place is also an ideal destination for art lovers. The town host works by great artists from the Sienese school, including Simone Martini’s “Madonna and Child in Glory” in the oratory of the Church of San Lorenzo in Ponte; “Majesty”, painted by Lippo Memmi on the large wall of the Sala Dante, and the “Universal Judgement” fresco by Puccio Taddeo di Bartolo in the Collegiate Church.
San Gimignano is also famous for its food. The village is well-known for fine produce such as saffron, which has historically been considered to be of superior quality, and Vernaccia, one of Italy’s best-known white wines internationally, which was the first to obtain the title of Controlled Denomination of Origin in 1966, and the D.O.C.G. trademark in 1993.
Must-see San Gimignano museums.
The San Gimignano Civic Museum, with a 1361 cistern at its entrance and frescoes by Sodoma, is a must-see stop-off in town. Immediately after the entrance is the Sala di Dante, named after the poet who stayed in San Gimignano in 1300 to help the Guelph cause. Continuing on your visit to the museum, you come to the hall of Secret Meetings, from where a staircase leads to Torre Grossa and the Pinacoteca painting gallery.
The Museum of Torture is also well worth a visit. The first part of the museum exhibits methods of torture popular all over the world, featuring original tools, photos and detailed explanations. The second part focuses on the topic of the death penalty, highlighting just how original and singular this museum is.
Where to stay in town
To fully enjoy the beauty of the Senesi Valleys, we suggest you spend the night at the Gruppo UNA Relais Villa Grazianella | UNA Esperienze in Montepulciano, a strategic place for discovering Tuscany and fully enjoying its beautiful landscapes.