san gimignano: a city of medieval skyscrapers

We slept in a bit and ate a breakfast, whipped up by Mike, of scrambled eggs with spinach and cheese, apricot juice, a sliced nectarine and espresso. Before leaving for San Gimignano, we walked around the ancient manor of Fulignano, in which our apartment was housed, leaving our Airbnb by 9:40.

It was supposed to be cloudy all day and around 65°F.  We hoped it wouldn’t rain.  We drove along a dirt road lined with cypress trees, rolling hills, vineyards, and beautiful Tuscan homes. We could see in the distance the hilltop town of San Gimignano, with its many towers.


on the way to San Gimignano


San Gimignano from afar

San Gimignano, 54km SW of Florence, is a hilltop town with 14 medieval skyscrapers.  At the height of the Guelph-Ghibelline conflict (from the 12th to the 15th centuries), there were over 70 towers built partly for defensive purposes.  They offered safe refuge and were used to pour boiling water over attacking enemies. The towers also bolstered the egos and flaunted the wealth of the owners, who competed to build the highest tower.

The plague of 1348 and the subsequent population decline dealt a severe blow to the trading economy of San Gimignano.  The crisis led the governors to submit to Florence in 1353, but this didn’t help as the city suffered further decline and neglect.  In recent years, the beauty of the town and its architectural and artistic importance have led to economic and cultural revival.

Upon parking in the town around 10:00, we went into the late-13th-century Chiesa de Sant’Agostino (Church of St. Augustine), the second largest church in town after the Collegiata. It is owned by the Order of Saint Augustine. Inside, Benozzo Gozzoli’s 15th-century fresco cycle (1464-65) depicted scenes from the life of St. Augustine, whose work was valuable in developing early Church doctrine.  Augustine, like many saints, sinned often before finding God, but instead of suffering through deprivations and martyrdom, he focused on the reconciliation of faith and thought.


entering San Gimignano


a courtyard in San Gimignano


chiesa de Sant’Agostino


chiesa de Sant’Agostino


chiesa de Sant’Agostino

We walked past the Duomo di San Gimignano and the Palazzo Comunale.


Duomo di San Gimignano

The 13th-century Palazzo Comunale has always been the center of the town’s local government.


Palazzo Comunale


towers of San Gimignano


towers of San Gimignano

We went into the Musei Civici, where we climbed the 54-meter tall Torre Grossa, or Great Tower, for views of the town. The tower was built in 1311.


view of San Gimignano from Torre Grossa


view of San Gimignano from Torre Grossa


view of San Gimignano from Torre Grossa


view of San Gimignano from Torre Grossa


view of San Gimignano from Torre Grossa

Then we wandered though the second floor of the Musei Civici, where we found paintings by famous Renaissance painters, Pinturicchio and Benozzo Gozzoli. In a small room off the stairway, we encountered risqué frescoes by Memmo di Filippuccio (1288-1324) depicting courtship, a shared bath, and the wedding of a young androgynous-looking couple, but I somehow missed taking photos of those.  The main council chamber held a 14th-century Maestà by Lippo Memmi.

We went into the Romanesque Duomo di San Gimignano, also called the Collegiata di San Gimignano, full of fine colorful frescoes covering nearly every part of the interior.  It was consecrated in 1148. Bartolo di Fredi’s 14th-century fresco cycle of Old Testament scenes is on one wall; the opposite wall shows the Life of Christ by 14th-century artist Lippo Memmi.


Duomo di San Gimignano


Duomo di San Gimignano


Duomo di San Gimignano

The Renaissance Capella di Santa Fina, and fresco cycle by Dominico Ghirlandaio, illustrates the life of St. Fina.  The small girl had a terminal disease and repented of her sins, one of which included accepting an orange from a boy, by lying on a wooden board tormented by rats. At the moment of her death, yellow violas blossomed from the board.


Capella di Santa Fina

After visiting the church, it started raining, so we sought refuge in a cafe, where we enjoyed coffee, salty pastries, and a blueberry pastry with powdered sugar. When the rain let up slightly, we ventured out, bought umbrellas at a small shop, and wandered around under cover.

We walked through the Plaza della Cisterna.


Plaza della Cisterna


Plaza della Cisterna


San Gimignano

In our rambles, we stumbled upon the highest point in town, the medieval Rocca di Montestaffoli San Gimignano, a fortress dating from 1353, with a wonderful view over the town and the countryside.


Rocca di Montestaffoli San Gimignano


Rocca di Montestaffoli San Gimignano


Rocca di Montestaffoli San Gimignano


Rocca di Montestaffoli San Gimignano


Rocca di Montestaffoli San Gimignano

Back in town, we dipped into a few shops. We bought two black and white photos of little Fiats in the Italian countryside and a leather journal.  Mike bought a very stylish black Italian jacket and two nice Italian shirts.


towers of San Gimignano

We left San Gimignano to drive to Volterra around 2:00.

*Friday, May 3, 2019*