San Gimignano is the most famous small town of 7,000 inhabitants (but no large tourist hotels) in Italy. With its famous towered skyline and city walls, and there are few places that evoke the atmosphere of mediaeval Tuscany so powerfully.
Because of its towers, at a distance on the horizon San Gimignano town seems to offer a New York skyline until you realize the difference in scale.
Only thirteen of the original seventy-two towers of the fourteenth century survive - towers that represented wealth and influence more than defence and security - the higher the tower, the richer the family.
It stands on a hill, 334m above sea level, overlooking the Elsa valley on the site of a small Etruscan settlement dating from the Hellenistic period during 3rd-2nd century B.C.. Its name commemorates Saint Gimignano, who as Bishop of Modena reputedly saved the town from Totila’s invading hordes in the sixth century.
It is located on a hilltop in the heart of Tuscany, with a 360 degree view into the surrounding valleys of grape vines.
San Gimignano has retained all its old streets, its walls, gates, palaces, strongholds and thirteen towers.
It developed considerably during the Middle Ages thanks to the fact that the town was on the route of the Via Francigena, the pilgrim road (and trade route) from Canterbury to Rome, and thence to Jerusalem, from the tenth century onwards. (Other famous towns with Augustinians such as Siena and
Pavia also were on the route of the Via Francigena.)
On 8th May 1300 the poet Dante Alighieri gave a speech at San Gimignano in support of the Guelph (pro-Papal) Alliance in
The city is noted for its thirteen outsized towers attached to what are relatively small buildings underneath them (picture 1).
Some of these towers have withstood the ravages of time, war and weather to remain a valuable tourist attraction today.
The Augustinian Church of Saint Augustine is plain in its exterior (picture 2), and the interior is one great nave.
What is most significant is the alcove immediately behind the altar (picture 3), where the frescoes of Benozzo Gozzoli have become the most famous set of paintings of Augustine anywhere in the world.
(There are more details about Gozzoli and his frescoes on the following pages of Augnet.)
For images of San Gimignano on Augnet, select Italy:San Gimignano after you click here.
Photos (at right):
Picture 1: Part of the town skyline.
Picture 2: The exterior of
St Augustine’s Church at San Gimignano.
Picture 3: The altar and the famous frescoes behind it.