San Gimignano: the medieval city of skyscrapers.
Without looking at the photo below, (possible too late now!) would you be able to name a perfectly preserved medieval citadel with 14 skyscrapers, and would you believe its existence?
No, well then I highly recommend you visit San Gimignano in Siena, in the beautiful hills of Elsa Valley to see such a miracle. There used to be 71 towers but over the years and various wars, in Italian history and beyond, have meant that only 14 have survived; a truly fantastic sight and a treasure that was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1990.
The 14 towers that stretch to the sky and caress the clouds are like a community themselves: Each is a different height and was built for a family member of the dominating family at the time, and depending on his rank and height a tower was built accordingly.
During my visit I discovered the San Gimignano delle belle Torri when we visited in the morning and what a sight it was. The imposing and awesome buildings are truly a sight to behold and appear like a carefully constructed masterpiece much like an orchestra or concert. The juxtaposition of solid structure and great beauty is truly inspiring. The mighty towers rise to the sky and stand out even in Siennan streets with many beautiful buildings.
The Citadel is definitely worth a visit and although it is small (having a population 8,000 inhabitants- not including tourists) the Citadel is rich in art and with a multitude of museums, palaces and churches to visit, guests can indulge in the glorious history and culture of the region.
One day is not enough time to see the entire city, and we just had Sunday to visit. So we decided to first see the splendid Cathedral (Collegiate) built in the twelfth century and a place of worship. ( We being my friend Glenda and I).
The city has many great frescoed walls (painted art on buildings) by the great masters of the fourteenth and XV, above all, Lippo Memmi, Taddeo di Bartolo, Bartolo di Fredi and Domenico Ghirlandaio himself. Yes, you read correctly GHIRLANDAIO: the artist responsible for the afresco on Chapel of Santa Fina, with a cycle depicting the life of the Saint, as well as the splendid "Annunciation" next to the Baptistery.
On the third Saturday and Sunday in June in honour of Santa Fina, there is a festival in San Gimignano called “Ferie delle Messi”. The festival is organised by the “Knights of St.Fina” who dress in medieval custom and parade through the streets with banners, armor, helmets and shields reminiscent of the time. If you visit at this time you will also be treated to a horse tournament named “La Giostra dei Bastoni” , it is a truly fantastic event which is a marvel to the eyes and an amazing scene in the beauty of this town.
Afterwards we ventured to the Pinacoteca and the “Museo Civico” in the Palazzo del Popolo, which is where Dante stayed in 1300 while he was here as Ambassador in Tuscany for the “League Guelph”; responsible for paintings and works of art it houses. Both Glenda and I were captivated and enthralled by the frescoe “The Scene of Marriage” by Memmo di Filippucci depicting the seasons or cycles of spouse love; the painting is delicate and emotional an unusual piece for the time.
We then stopped by the magnificent Church of St. Augustine, a thirteenth century build with a Rococo interior. The church was also remodelled by the great Luigi Vanvitelli in the eighteenth century, after marvelling at this awesome structure we went for a spot of lunch.
The city is also renowned for its white wine, of course the Chianti region produces phenomenal wine but San Gimignano has the best white wine in the whole region and in Italy. There are a great number of wineries here and in some you can have a tasting of the wine with some snacks. One of the most unique wineries is “Divinorum” and we had a sneaky look inside and it is simply stunning. The name for wineries here is Enoteche, and they punctuate the beautiful street and squares of the city and taking a stroll through here is like a day-dream.
We stopped for lunch at the Trattoria “ll Castello” located in Palazzo Gonfantini, a twelfth century restaurant in the centre of the Citadel. It is a marvellous medieval tavern which is divided into separate rooms. If you fancy sitting outside (we didn’t it was a little fresh) then there is a beautiful courtyard with panoramic views. We choose to dine in the palor“Limonaia” which is one of the smaller more intimate rooms. The food was sensational, traditional homemade meals with a wide range of meat dishes on the menu: from free-range chicken, veal and beef, to pork, wild boar and other small game.
Glenda had ravioli with basil and tomato, and I had fettuccine with mushrooms as a starter. For second course we shared Bistecca alla fiorentina (yearling ribeye) grilled on oak charcoal, and usually ways half a kilo. The restaurant has on hand a local wine expert (Paula who was great and very attentive) who recommended a red wine Rosso di San Gimignano, and in terms of price is was reasonable (not rising to the vine). For dessert we took a glass of a sweet wine called Vin Santo and we had a delicious almond cake (Cantucci) also drenched in the wine.
The feast tasted like it was heaven sent and was perfect for rejuvenating us , getting us ready for more sights to see....
We had an amazing time and doubt that people can resist the temptations and amazing sights of this city.
We are planning another trip, are you planning your first?