San Gimignano, known as the City of Beautiful Towers, is a classic medieval walled hill town in Tuscany. Its 14 surviving medieval towers create a beautiful skyline visible from the surrounding countryside. The historic center is a UNESCO world heritage site for its architecture. During the middle ages, the town was an important center for trade and for pilgrims traveling to or from Rome on the Via Francigena.
Getting to San Gimignano
To get to San Gimignano on public transportation, take a bus or train from Siena or Florence to Poggibonsi. From Poggibonsi, there are frequent buses. The 20-minute bus ride drops you in Piazzale del Martiri near Porta San Giovanni. Go through the gate and walk up Via San Giovanni (lined with souvenir shops) and on to the town's center, Piazza della Cisterna.
If you arrive by car, you'll take the Firenze-Siena road, exit at Poggibonsi Nord and follow signs to San Gimignano. There are parking lots outside the walls. The town is best explored on foot.
Where to Stay
While San Gimignano can be easily visited as a day trip from Siena or Florence, it's best appreciated in the evening after the tourist buses leave. Accommodations may be less costly here as well. Hotel Bel Soggiorno is a comfortable family-run hotel inside the walls of the historic center and most rooms and the restaurant have great views of the countryside.
Food and Wine
San Gimignano was once a big grower of crocuses to produce saffron which they exported. There are still a few small saffron producers. Today the main product is a white wine, Vernaccia, that comes from grapes in the surrounding vineyards. You can try it several places in town.
For a small town, there are a number of good restaurants serving typical Tuscan food, at least a dozen in the center and other good restaurants in the countryside. You can also stock up on picnic items and a bottle of wine for a picnic near the Rocca.
San Gimignano's Towers
Originally San Gimignano had 72 towers, built by patrician families probably to demonstrate their wealth and power. 7 of the remaining towers are around Piazza del Duomo. The tallest tower is Torre Grossa, 54 meters (177 feet) in height, dating from 1298. Visitors can climb to the top of Torre Grossa for fantastic views of the town and the picturesque countryside.
Opposite the Duomo is Torre della Rognosa, 50 meters high and one of the oldest towers, rising from the original town hall building, Palazza del Podesta. Edicts at the time forbade anyone from building a tower taller than Torre della Rognosa but several wealthy families bought lots nearby to erect similar towers.
Besides the towers, the historic center has several interesting tourist attractions.
- La Collegiata - San Gimignano's 11th-century duomo, la Collegiata, has an interior lavishly decorated with 14th-century frescoes, floor to ceiling, illustrating the Life of Christ and the Old Testament. In the Chapel of Santa Fina is a 15th-century fresco showing San Gimignano's towers as they were then.
- Palazzo del Popolo Civic Museum - The Civic Museum is inside the Palazzo del Popolo. The museum contains some outstanding artwork and frescoes from the 13th-15th centuries, including the famous Sala di Dante with frescoes by Benozzo Gozzoli.
- Torture Museum - The Museo della Tortura is inside the Torre della Diavola. It has a large display of torture instruments, some of which are still in use today in various parts of the world.
- Archaeology Museum - The Museo Archeologico, in a former convent, has a small collection of Etruscan artifacts. The Etruscans were the first civilization to occupy what's now San Gimignano.
- Museum of Sacred Art - The museum has a small collection of religious art including 14th century illuminated choir books.
- Sant'Agostino - The small 13th-century church of Sant'Agostino is worth visiting for its charming frescoes, its elaborate marble altar, and the 15th century carved tomb of San Bartolo.
- La Rocca - The remains of the 14th-century fortress above the town are worth visiting for the views of San Gimignano's towers and the countryside. Walk up the hill from Piazza delle Erbe. There's also a wine museum and an outdoor cinema in summer.
- Medieval Fountains - The 9th century Fonti Medievali on Via delle Fonti is where medieval townspeople got water and did their laundry.