San Gimignano – Italy’s ‘Town of the Towers’

Click the thumbnails below to read more about what to see, things to do, where to eat, and getting around in San Gimignano.

Once a main stop on the Roman road to Pisa the walled hilltop town of San Gimignano is an ancient community and quite unlike it’s larger neighbor Florence.  About 90 minutes from Florence by bus and just over an hour from Siena, San Gimignano is a great day trip or overnight destination.  And, though it has more than its share of touristy boutiques, it’s a pedestrian friendly city that we think is definitely worth a visit…even if just for a few hours…during your tour of Tuscany.

Porta San Giovanni

Arriving in San Gimignano, you’re deposited just outside of the city wall and enter through the main gate, Porta San Giovanni,

Via Francigena

making your way along via Francigena to the historical center at Piazza della Cisterna.

Via Francigena

And, if you’re like us, you’ll be gazing up at the impressive buildings along the way.

Torre Rognosa

The historic center of San Gimignano is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the city’s skyline has been likened to that of Manhattan with its high rises, though these towering structures aren’t nearly as tall.  Yet, much like the modern day skyscrapers, the towers of San Gimignano were a sign of economic power; built in the 14th century by the wealthiest of local families. Of the over 70 tower houses built in San Gimignano, 13 survive to this day (some sources say 14), but regardless of the number, the towers add to the ambience of this historical feudal village.

Thanks to a period of economic decline, the medieval charm in San Gimignano remains, and for such a small and compact community there are quite a number of things to see.  Here’s a quick list of a few points of interest within the city walls:

Piazza della Cisterna

Piazza della Cisterna  – Named for the town’s water well,

Piazza della Cisterna

a 13th century underground cistern, this is one of the main squares in San Gimignano, and was originally called Piazza delle Taverne.  Here you’ll find our recommended hotel and gelateria.

San Gimignano Palazzo Comunale

Palazzo Comunale – The former Town Hall situated in a 13th century building; now a public museum and the historical seat of the Musei Civici (Civic Museums).

San Gimignano Palazzo Comunale

Torre Grossa –The tallest of the medieval towers. Open to visitors as part of the Musei Civici.

Piazza della Duomo

Piazza della Duomo – One of two main squares, here is where you’ll find the Basilica of Santa Maria AssuntaPalazzo Comunale, Palazzo Vecchio del Podestà and Torre Rognosa.  Piazza della Duomo is a great place for people watching or just to sit and enjoy a refreshing gelato.

Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta

Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta – sometimes called the Duomo and located in Piazza della Duomo, though technically not a cathedral.  The Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta was consecrated in 1148.  Artwork inside includes medieval frescoes, statues and sculpture, as well as a number of paintings dating to the 16th and 17th centuries.  The church also houses the 15th century Chapel of Santa Fina.  Adult admission = 3.50€ (included in Musei Civici combo ticket).

Chiesa di Sant'Agostino

Chiesa di Sant’Agostino– The 13th century Church of Saint Augustine, built in Romanesque-gothic style.  The interior is decorated with frescoes and paintings from the 13th – 15th centuries.

Rocca di Montestaffoli

Rocca di Montestaffoli – The hilltop remains of a 14th century fortress built by the Florentines, on the site of a previous castle.  The area inside the fortress walls is a peaceful park and olive grove, a popular spot for musicians and artists, as well as the setting for the local medieval festival.

View from Rocca di Montestaffoli

Climb the turret for a view of the surrounding countryside.

Vernaccia Wine Museum – Using multi-media demonstrations, this museum tells the story of Vernaccia di San Gimignano, the local white wine; a wine said to have been enjoyed by Dante, and of which Michelangelo wrote in 1643: “It kisses, leaks, bites, pricks, and stings (“Bacia, lecca, morde, picca e punge”). Located in Villa della Rocca di Montestaffoli, museum admission is free, however there is a fee for wine tastings.

Ornithological Museum – consisting of a selection of ornithological specimens, some 371 in all, accumulated between 1866 and 1911, by the Marchesa Marianna Panciatichi Ximenes d’Aragona Paolucci, an avid bird collector.  The museum is housed in the 16th century Church of San Francesco on Via Quercecchio. Admission = 1.50€

San Gimignano Medieval City Walls – The 13th century city walls, the second ring of walls built around the city, measuring just over one mile in length. Visitors to San Gimignano can walk along the top of the walls, or follow the dirt path around the perimeter, for picturesque views of the area landscape.

Travel tip:

If museums are really not your thing, we recommend just taking a stroll through town and enjoying the charm of San Gimignano.

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