top of page

San Gimignano

Adorable Chick

ITALY, GREECE & MONTENEGRO Diary : Day 4 - 05th May 2018

The fortified hill town of SAN GIMIGNANO ( pronounced San jimmy gna no) occupies a small area in the central Tuscan region, half-way between FLORENCE & SIENNA. Its 13th century fort walls promise unparalleled views of the Tuscan valleys that surround it. The erstwhile CASTLE SILVIA was renamed SAN GIMIGNANO, after 'Saint Geminianus', who defended this fort town from Atilla the Hun in the 5th Century. The town is best known for its watch towers, few of which were built initially for secret viewing, supporting its military. Historical facts prove that few houses were later built in tower format, referred to as CASSA TORRE, with their narrow windows facilitating nothing but exchange of air. The 13th & 14th century witnessed hierarchical family feuds where each family built towers attached to their residences, in increasing heights, to compete with the other. In a few passing centuries the number of towers grew to 72, prestigiously defining the power and wealth of the Patrician family. The town was used as a stopover by on foot pilgrims, who visited ROME or VATICAN. Later, the Black Plague attacked the town, causing majority of its settlements to gradually move out. Over the passing years, only 14 of these towers survived, as seen today. The town has never been subject to war destruction. It is currently a well recognised UNESCO HERITAGE site.

As interesting as its history sounds, so was its inclusion in our itinerary. We began the day from Florence. A day tour with MYTOURS, covering interesting bits of Tuscany, was what we had booked online, with the said company. A short walk to the FIRENZE CAMPO DI MARTE station, followed a local train ride to the main Santa Maria Novella station took us around 15 minutes. Outside the station were tramlines. The tram that we were supposed to board to get to the PORTA AL PRATO stop, didn't appear. After a while, we were informed of the trams being " off schedule" that day. We started walking quickly to reach our pick-up point, as per instructions from MYTOURS. The walk got to via Elio Gabbuggiani ( a street near the tower Porta al Prato) in 10 minutes. The tour was scheduled to begin at 9 am. We were there on time, happy to find a crowd gathering under umbrellas that were installed inside a particular cafe by MYTOURS. We were greeted warmly. On producing our online tickets, we were handed over sticker badges to be worn. The bus, arranged by the company, arrived at 8:45 am. The group boarded the bus and the tour began. Once on our seats, the guide introduced himself and the driver, distributing one head set per participant, to facilitate his narrations, unhindered. The journey consisted of breezing through the Chianti region, sighting green valleys and vineyards at every nook and corner. The guide's narratives kept us upright. As we got closer to the destination, the bus began a short upward, winding climb. San Gimignano was reached in an hour's time after the start that morning. As instructed we gathered near the parking lot. The group crossed a garden following the guide, who led us up a zig-zag brick stairway, before reaching a large open area.

From a distance, the seemingly rectangular fortress displayed a plain wall with a few roofs peeking out from inside it. With a cylindrical tower attached to its western end and an arched entrance gate embedded in the eastern, the century old fortress looked sturdy as ever. The original stone structure seemed to have been renovated with red bricks to complete its ruined design. We crossed a road here to reach a restaurant lying outside the fortress entrance. The guide explained a short history of the town before we walked in through the gates. It was interesting to note that each tower in the town was given a name. A classic example of the fusion of Roman & Gothic structures, the fortress stands on an axis, above a hillock.

Tidy Desk

The town is said to have eight entrances, of which the south entrance - called PORTA SAN GIOVANNI - is widely used & considered to be the main one. The solid stone entrance has an arching design and a 'crown like' structure built of bricks, decorating its top. Next to this crowned view house, lies a bell tower. We entered the main gates to find a slightly arching alley with buildings on its either sides greeting us. The journey inside the fortress town began.

Series of shops & boutiques selling various colourful items, flanked most parts of the alley from the entrance, even before we reached the main square. The hand painted, huge sized, earthen & ceramic pots confirmed the perfect sense of art. There were few shops selling original and extraordinary leather purses.

The souvenir shops left no stone unturned in attracting tourists. Strolling down at our own pace, we window shopped to our heart's content. We reached the main piazza (square) called the PIAZZA DELLA CISTERNA ( the WELL square). Its herringbone patterned, red tile floor was eye catching . True to its name, we found a huge well installed on an octagonal pandal, in the junction of one of the angles of this triangular shaped piazza. Tourists flocked in and around & few street shops were open for business. Fresh vegetables and wine were on display. The layout of this square has been as is, since the 13th century. Two of the fourteen existing towers can be seen here. The piazza shares a small passage with the next square the PIAZZA DEL DUOMO.

We walked through the passage to get there. This square hosts a total of 3 towers. The tallest tower - TORRE GROSSA running to a height of 230 feet, lies here. We couldn't capture the entire tower in our camera until we walked away from it. Right next to Torre Grossa is the collegiate CHURCH OF SAN GIMIGNANO- or the Collegiata di Santa Maria ASSUNTA. This Roman Catholic Collegiate Church is known for its interiors filled with paintings and murals including works of famous Italian artists.