Located in Central Italy in the province of Siena, the medieval town of San Gimignano offers an ancient Italian experience. Known for its many sky-scraping towers, visitors of all ages can take in the town's historic architecture, cultural opportunities, and distinctive sightseeing stops.
FESTIVAL & EVENTS IN SAN GIMIGNANO
Throughout the year tourists will find the people of San Gimignano taking part in a variety of festivals and other cultural events. They provide travelers with a chance to immerse themselves in the lives of the locals in this small Tuscan town.
On January 31, the fourth century Bishop of Modena - Saint Geminianus - is celebrated during the Festival of the City's Patron Saint. A ceremony at the Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta and a traditional fair take place to recognize the spiritual figure who is said to have protected the town of San Gimignano from being attacked by Huns.
Saint Serafina is also honored and celebrated as a second Patron Saint to the city. The Festival of Santa Fina is held on March 12 - and similar to the January event, this festival includes a religious ceremony and fair in Piazza del Duomo and Piazza della Cisterna. Saint Fina was born in the medieval town in 1283 and is again praised at the Festival of Thanks on the first Sunday of August.
Like many other parts of Italy, San Gimignano celebrates Carnival in style. Each year, giant papier-mâché floats parade through the city center accompanied by confetti and music.
Later in the year, the locals celebrate Good Friday with a procession organized by the Brotherhood of Misericodia. The procession is dedicated to the Holy Cross and members of the Brotherhood wear their customary hooded capes as they make their way through the historical city center.
The historic Ferie delle Messi - a traditional medieval harvest festival - takes place in the middle of June. Up and down the cobblestone streets and in the town squares, visitors can browse the local arts and crafts for sale, listen to storytellers, and dance to a variety of musical performances. Demonstrations of medieval games including archery and tug of war are held for a touch of friendly competition. To top off the weekend, a knight’s parade - the Corteo delle Messi of more than 500 people in period costumes is held through the center of town, followed by the Giostra dei Bationi. Knights compete in this horse race with the goal of winning the Gold Sword - representing fertility and wealth.
Another event takes place during the months of July and August - San Gimignano Estate. Visitors can indulge themselves with the many performances of poetry, theater, ballet, and opera. Concerts are often held in Piazza del Duomo, while films can be seen at night in Parco della Rocca.
Also during the summer, locals celebrate Nottilucente, which is known as the “white night” of San Gimgnano. Beginning in the early evening and extending through the night, Nottilucente features entertaining performances in the town’s streets and squares.
For some outdoor sightseeing, visitors can explore the hilltop landscape of San Gimignano. While the town is enclosed by walls, the surrounding area is covered with vineyards, olive trees, and sunflowers. The views of the Tuscan countryside from this elevated town are a must-see for any traveler.
Nicknamed the "Town of Fine Towers," San Gimignano is most famous for its collection of defensive towers. Representing power and wealth, the towers were built by rival families - each one taller than the last. Ultimately there were 72 towers erected by the end of the 14th century. Of these, only 14 towers remain standing today. As visitors stroll through the streets of town, they can take in the construction as well as the stories behind each one. A number of the towers are open to the public to explore both inside and out. Among the remaining towers are: Torre dei Becci, Torre dei Cugnanesi, Torre Rognosa, Torre del Diavolo, and Torre Grossa.
While strolling through town, be sure to keep an eye open for the historic city gates that have historically served as entrances to San Gimignano. The Gate of San Giovanni was constructed during the thirteenth century and is distinct due to its arch, guardroom, and small bell tower. Another example is the Gate of San Matteo, which was built during the twelfth century and is positioned along the second set of city walls. The gate features a double arch and is topped by six smaller arches.
From shopping and music to architecture and history - the two main town squares have it all. They provide a location for people to gather and take part in San Gimignano's cultural activities. The main square - Piazza della Cisterna is triangular in shape. It is bordered by medieval architecture and a well stands in the center - once providing much of the water to the locals. Piazza Duomo is to its north and dates back to the 13th century. Many of the town's core buildings and monuments are located around this more elaborate town square such as the Collegiate Church, Palazzo Podestà - home to the mayor, and historic towers including Torre Chigi and Torre Grossa.
For a break from the sun, San Gimignano has plenty to see indoors. Among the more popular sights is La Collegiata - the town's core church, located in the historic Piazza del Duomo. The cathedral - with its Tuscan Renaissance style - contains impressive works of art by well-known artists of the time, including Benozzo Gozzoli and Taddeo di Bartolo. While some of the artwork has been relocated to a nearby museum, visitors can see intricate frescos presenting biblical scenes and the detailed altar located in the church's Chapel of Santa Fina. Visitors will also find the story of Fina, the town's patron saint depicted in the frescos located inside the chapel.
Another favorite stop is the Museum of Sacred Art - home to a variety of art pieces brought from the Collegiate Church and other historic buildings for preservation. Since 1915, the museum has displayed ancient textile art, psalm books, and sculptures for visitors to view. Amongst the collection is the painting Madonna of the Rose by Bartola de Fredi and the 14th century wooden figures of The Announcing Angel and The Madonna.
Other worthwhile sights to be seen in San Gimignano include the Church of Sant Agostino, the San Gimignano 1300 Museum, and the People's Palace.
SHOPPING ACTIVITIES IN SAN GIMIGNANO
The shopping opportunities in San Gimiginano are unlike those in larger Italian cities such as Milan. Located in the province of Siena in Central Italy, this walled town is known for its handcrafted items. Travelers can peruse the stalls of the street markets and small shops located along Via San Giovanni to pick the perfect piece to bring home. Locals sell ceramics, handmade jewelry, furniture, linens, and artwork.
Dispersed throughout the streets of San Gimignano are stores selling glassware, leather goods, books, and traditional souvenirs. Food lovers can opt to visit a gourmet shop to pick up some of the local favorites including olive oil, pici pasta, saffron, and the famous Vernaccia white wine.
FAMILY & KIDS
Traveling as a family to San Gimignano can be a cultural and adventurous experience for visitors of all ages. Families can take in all that the piazze have to offer - from lively musicians and films at dusk to souvenir shops and the delicious gelato served up in gelaterie throughout town. Depending upon the time of year, visitors may have the chance to partake in one of the town's annual festivals.
Travelers, both young and old, will enjoy the story behind the towers and the rivalry that led to so many being built over time. Families can explore the remaining structures and what makes each different from the rest. For instance, the two Torri dei Salvucci were built by the wealthy Salvucci family to flaunt their political and economic power. They were later shortened to meet the maximum 170 feet requirement that was subsequently put into place and are currently open for visitors to view. Another popular tower to experience is Torre Grossa. Its 170-foot height makes "The Big Tower" the tallest tower in San Gimignano. Located in Piazza del Duomo, families can climb to the top - counting the steps along the way. The reward is the panoramic view of the town and its surrounding countryside.
UNIQUE EXPERIENCES IN SAN GIMIGNANO
Visitors can explore more unique opportunities available in San Gimignano such as the Museum of Medieval Torture. The exhibits combine forms of physical punishment with a discussion on human rights. Those interested in the darker side of history can view the assortment of devices including spiked collars, guillotines, an ancient electric chair, and a sarcophagus complete with a swinging door and metal spikes.
Another unique find in San Gimignano are the 14th century medieval wash-houses located just inside Porta delle Fonti - a gated entrance to the town known as "Spring's Gate." These fountains were once used by local residents to get water and wash their linens. The architecture alone is a sight to be seen with its ten decorative Romanesque arches. Constructed in the fourteenth century, the structure still houses water to this day.
For a day trip away from San Gimignano, the medieval city of Siena is just a short drive away. The center of Siena offers the impressive Piazza del Campo along with the Gothic Cathedral - Duomo of Siena - and its intricate mosaic floors. Depending upon the time of year, the historic Palio horse race is held in the piazza twice a year and is a glimpse into the city’s timeless culture.
With remarkable medieval towers and stunning hilltop views, the town of San Gimignano is known for its whimsical atmosphere. No matter the time of year, this Tuscan gem offers plenty of activities to enjoy from culture, art, and history to food, wine, and everything in between.
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