VIEWS FROM THE ROCCA
Located on a hill, the remains of the ancientcastle of San Gimignanoare one of the best places to admirethis medieval townsurrounded by nature.Built on the hill of Montestaffoli, which gives its name to the castle, there was previously another fortress owned by the bishop of the neighbouring town ofVolterra. The bishop had political jurisdiction over the village, which had thrived thanks to its market and its location at an important crossroads.The remains of the present castle date from a later period. It was built as a fortress by the Republic of Florence.
When San Gimignano was devastated by the plague epidemic and began its decline, it was offered to the Tuscan Statein exchange for protection.With a pentagonal base, the enclosure is crowned by five defensive towers. Today only one of them can be visited. It is reached by a stone staircase that, like ina military adventure, leads toa spacious lookout point. This place offers a sublime panoramic view of the impressive historic centre of San Gimignano, which is a World Heritage Site. We can also enjoy the view of the surrounding hills, populated by the characteristicvineyards, olive trees and cypresses that have shaped the Tuscan landscape. Some people prefer to wait until duskto climb up here and catch the sunset.
La Rocca, as the place is known, breathes tranquillity. It is a green area away from the hustle and bustle of the centre. Its free access and calm atmosphere is another attraction for lovers of peace and quiet.On the third weekend of June, the town hosts the Ferie delle Messi, a festival with medieval performances. One of the main attractions is La Giostra dei Bastoni which takes place inside the castle.
It is a kind of tournament, a fight on horseback in which knights beat a helmet of armour as if it was the enemy´s.The winner is awarded a golden sword which represents wealth and fertility.
Rocca de Montestaffoli. Via della Rocca 6. San Gimignano
PASTA FROM THE TUSCAN FOREST
Tuscan cuisine does not pretend to be a glamorous gastronomy, but one based on the humble origins of its dishes. These are characterised by a peasant style, based on the products of its generous and fertile land.One of the big bets here is wheat with its golden ears sowing its fields. Of course, that´s where the pastacomes from.Two varieties of pastaare very common in the area: pappardelle, a wider type of fettuccineof up to 2,5 cm compared to the 6 mm of traditional fettuccine, and pici, a thicker type of spaghetti.
The different shapes and thicknesses are achieved by passing the hard wheat semolina through a machine which moulds the pasta.The pastais accompanied by a sauce called ragù de cinghiale, a pomodoro(tomato) sauce with minced wild boar meat (a very common animal in these area where forests abound).
Italians cook pastain plenty of water. They only cover the pot so that the water boils more quickly. They do not pour any oil into the water and wait until it has boiled before adding salt.They wait one minute to stir it if they are making fresh pastaand up to four minutes if it is dry pasta. They cook it al dente, in other words, the middle part has a white spot which indicates that it is less cooked than the ends, thus preventing the carbohydrates from being converted into glucose prematurely.Once the pastais cooked, before draining it, run it under cold tap water. Just a little water is enough to stop it from cooking, then drain it. In the case of fresh pasta, this is not drained, but removed directly from the pot with a skimmer spoon.
"The sauce waits for the pasta", once it has been drained, we quickly add it to the sauce pan.Did you know that the Etruscans already ate pasta? That spaghettiexisted in Italy a century before Marco Polo brought it from China?
And that each Italian eats 28 kg of pastaper year?
You will find trattorias, osteriasand restaurants where you can try these dishes scattered throughout the small historic centre of San Gimignano.
WINE AND LITERATURE
What better souvenir can we take with us than a wine with a lot of literature? The hills of vineyards surrounding San Gimigniano offer a unique landscape. Its fruits have given birthto the first wine with Controlled and Guaranteed Designationof Origin in the country. A wine with character, rooted in the traditions and living history of San Gimignano.Dante already mentioned the Vernacciagrapein his “Divine Comedy”. In his “Purgatorio”he wrote: “…is the drink that led Pope Martin IV to commit the cardinal sin of gluttony.”.
Also in the “Divine Comedy" he said: "He held the Holy See in his armsIt was a torso, purging in fastingThe eel of Bolsena and the Vernaccia".His Holiness used to eat eels from Lake Bolsena marinated in white Vernaccia wine from San Gimignano.Vernaccia is an autochthonous grape variety that produces the only white wine in an area of production monopolised by reds. It sprouts at the end of April, flowers in the first half of July and ripens at the end of September and beginning of October. It is one of the most sought after and appreciated white wines in the country.
The breeders of this wine have contributed to produce a wine of excellent quality. The soil of the region is very poor, so its producers have prioritised the quality of the wine.Straw yellow in colour, its bouquetexpresses floral and citrus notes, a beautiful fruity balance with great freshness and good acidity.The Vernaccia was also praised by the physician and naturalist Francesco Redí in his book "Baccio in Toscana". It is a poem of 980 verses in the form of an oenological route.It is also the absolute protagonist of Armando Castagno´s book "Vernaccia di San Gimignano".
In fact, it is "wine made text" as the author declared in his presentation. The book is a true guide to the culture, the spirit, the tradition and the art that permeates the authentic San Gimignano. It talks about the local dialect and mentions some of its particular words: one of them is torsowhich means "sip of wine".
Go back to Dante´s poem above and perhaps you will understand it better now.
On sale in the wine shops scattered throughout the hole town.
Monumental as ever, the Piazza Duomowas the main political and religious centre of San Gimignano, a place of history, and the ideal spot for a special photo. Of all the monuments in the square, we would like to highlight the ones that took centre stage in the city´s political scene, they are the old and new palace of the communal power. The Ancient Palazzo del Podestàwas built to be the residence of the Podestàor governor and the centre of civil power. The office was to be held by an outsider, someone who was not from the town, so that his judgement would be as impartial as possible and he would not be influenced by his acquaintances.
Its façade has a beautiful contrast of material and colour, alternating between stone on the ground floor and brick on the upper floor topped with battlements as if it were a castle. The building is crowned by its Torre Rognosa, which served as a bell tower. With its 51 metres the towerset the height limit that other buildingsin the city were not allowed to exceed. With the construction of a new palace, the Palazzo del Podestà lost its residential and corporate roles to become a prison and later a theatre. During the World War I it housed refugees and, after the war, it was transformed into a cinema.
It is now owned by the city council, which completely renovated it to turn it into the Municipal Theatre. The Palazzo Nuovo del Podestàor Palazzo Comunalebecame the new seat of the government of San Gimignano. On its first floor balcony Il Comuneaddressed the people in a loud shout. The building had the honour of welcoming Dante Alighieri himself. The entire interior is painted with impressive frescoes. The building can be visited and now houses the Civic Museum with important medieval works of art. The Palazzo Nuovois topped by the Torre Grossa, the highest of them all with its 54 metres high.
In the lower part of the building is the Loggia, reserved for the authorities during the public ceremonies held in the square. You will get a nice photo if you stand in the middle of the square with your arms raised in such a way that you appear to be holding the towers. These towers are the two tallest so called skyscrapers in San Gimignano.
Piazza Duomo. 53037 San Gimignano.
We will tell you a story that probably few people know, a story from real history: As if it were a dispute between Montagues and Capulets, but in reality, two families whose surnames are closely linked to the architecture of San Gimignano fought for economic power and social prestigeover the years.The Salvucci familywas the most important Guelph family (supporters of the Pope) in town. On the other hand, the Ardinghelli familybelonged to the most important Ghibelline family (the Emperor´s supporters) of San Gimignano.
Both became rich through trade, finance and usury and were very active in the public life of the town. The conflict between the two powerful families even involved the population and divided it into two factions.The continuous distrust and rivalry between the Salvucci and Ardinghelli led to continuous riots and fierce disputes between the two families and their followers. The final intervention of the powerful Republic of Florence put an end to the war between the two sides and meant the incorporation of San Gimignano into its state.But not everyone took part in the fight.
According to the story, L´ Antico Borgo San Lorenzo, a present-day San Gimignano B&B (located in the neighbouring Poggibonsi) was the love nest of two young lovers: a maid who was at the service of the Salvucci family and a stable boy employed by the Ardinghelli family.This conflict went as far as architectural rivalry. Both families built not one, but two towers each in the two most important commercial squares of the city! In doing so, they tried to demonstrate their social supremacy over each other.
It seems that the Salvucci family erected two towers in Piazza delle Erbewishing, in some way, to violate the municipal decree that prevented the construction of towers higher than the one in the Palazzo della Podestà, La Torre Rognosa( "the untouchable” ). These were designed in such a way that the top of the first tower corresponded to the base of the second. Thus, if we imagine them ideally stacked one over the other, they would exceed the height of the Rognosatower.
In response, the Ardhinghelli, their bitter enemies, had a palace erected with twin towers in Piazza della Cisternaeven taller than those of the Salvucci family.As punishment for breaking municipal regulations, the four towers were cut down to about half their original size.Curiosities of history, as you can see.
Salvucci Towers, Piazza delle Erbe, 53037
Ardinghelli Towers, Piazza della Cisterna, 53037.
PILGRIMAGE, PENANCE AND REDEMPTION
We propose a challenge, and it is none other than to make a pilgrimage, penance and redemption in San Gimignano,The pilgrimagebegins by walking the three hundred metres of Via San Giovanni, quite an exercise considering that it is all steep. It is practically the only shopping street in the walled enclosure, where souvenir and typical products shops are to be found. It is a very lively street that you will have no trouble exploring.
Besides, spending money always helps to lift thespirits. Here you will find thefamous leather goods, the Palle del Nonnosausage (whose shape reminds us, as the name says, of the genital parts of an old man) and saffron. This spice was highly valued here centuries ago because of the profits generated by its sale, which were used to pay for the wars fought by San Gimignano.The route begins at Porta San Giovanni, the main entrance to the medieval enclosure and also the most majestic of all the gates in the walls. It is the gate through which most of the tourists who come to visit the city enter and through which the pilgrims on the Via Francigenaused to access the town.
When the abbot of Canterbury had just been appointed bishop by the pope, to receive his investiture in Rome, he began the 1,600 km pilgrimage along the Via Francigena. The path, always full of danger and adversity, gradually developed the first shelters for pilgrims to rest and take refuge. These gave rise to the first villages along the way, such as San Gimignano.With the passage of time, the road fell into disuse and became a trade route for the arrival of spices and silk from the East, which were traded in the market in Piazza della Cisterna. Via San Giovanni leads into the square, which we cross to reach Piazza Duomo.
Here we are left with the last effort and the real challenge, climbing the 217 steps of the Grossa Tower.This would be the penanceto earn the heavens, as they will be closer to us once we have climbed to the top of the tower, the highest in San Gimignano. Once we are at the summit, it will really be like touching the sky, not only because of its height, but also because of its incredible view. We will have at our feet this beautiful town and all that our sight can reach of the Tuscan landscape, declared World Heritage Site by UNESCO.Once at the top, we will feel that we have won redemptionfrom our sorrows.
As a curious fact, some of the scenes of the second part of the video game Assassi´s Creed, set in conspiracies of the Tuscan Renaissance, take place in this tower.
Grossa Tower, Piazza Duomo, 2. 53037 San Gimignano.
Admission fee 9 €, includes the Civic Museum.
Open from April to October from 10 am to 7:30 pm and from November to March from 11 am to 5:30 pm.
San Gimignano has 18 religious buildings. Of these, the Collegiate Churchis undoubtedly the most important.It is also known as Il Duomoas it is the Collegiate Church and Cathedral of San Gimignano. It is one of the most outstanding Romanesque buildings in Tuscany.Its construction began in no less than the X century and it is consecrated to the Assumption of Saint Mary, one of the four most important celebrations in the Catholic calendar. Built at the top of a staircase, it dominates the square to which it gives its name, the Piazza Duomo. The square has a slight slope that gives it an even greater elevation.
The building holds the title of Minor Basilica granted by the Pope. Did you know that of the 1,600 minor basilicas in the world, one third of them are in Italy?In its beginnings, the church was used for purposes that were not exactly liturgical. It was used as a centre of political life, where important civil events were held and even as a cattle market.Its exceptional façade is completely bare. It consists of three circular windows and two small side doors and contrasts with its interior, whose walls and vaults are entirely covered with marvellous frescoes, resulting in an extraordinarily colourful and didactic ensemble.
It is truly impressive to see scenes from the Bible, the Gospels and the Last Judgement painted on the great vault long before Michelangelo painted his.These works of art were financed to a large extent by the income from the chapels and altars inside the church and from noble chapels in the cemetery. The rose window, rich in symbolic values, was made under the name of Iridescenze. It alludes to The Trinitarian Vision poetically expressed by Dante in which three people are reflected in each other like a rainbow.
Its bell tower was originally a separate element belonging to one of those portentous local families we have already mentioned. Later, it was attached to the church, giving the tower a new use when the bells were added.
Piazza Duomo,53037 San Gimignano.
Open from May to September from 10 am to 7:30 pm, Saturday closes at 5:30 pm. From April to October is open from 10 am to 5 pm, except Sunday when it opens at 12:30 pm.
Would you like to take a stroll through the New York of the Middle Ages? San Gimignano experienced a period of great prosperity that was materialised by the construction of towers that, defying the verticality, rose proudly and ostentatiously. These towers formed part of the palaces in which the powerful families of the town resided. There were as many families as there were towers or palaces. At this time, the higher the tower, the higher the prestige of its owner. Of the 72 towers that the city once had in its golden age, only 14 remain today.
To limit the height of the towers, the governor set the maximum height at 50 metres, in order not to exceed the 51 metres of the RognosaTower at the seat of government. We invite you to take a pleasant walk through the village to discover these medieval skyscrapers and their most significant features:
Cugnanes iTower (Torre dei Cugnanesi): Although thistower belonged to the palace Palazzodei Cugnanesi,it was part, together with the Torre dei Becci,of the defence of the Becci Arch. It is one of the highest towers in the city and was, together with the Palazzo, part of itsfirst wall belt.
Becci Tower (Torre dei Becci): The Becci were an important merchant family during the golden age of the Comune of San Gimignano. The tower dates back to the XIII century.Both towers, dei Cugnanesiand dei Beccican be seen from Via San Giovanniand from Piazza della Cisterna.
Ficherelli Tower(Torre Ficherelli): One of the oldest, dating back to the XIII century, it is located in Via San Giovanni.
Campatelli Tower(Torre Campatelli): It is 28 metres high and was built in the second half of the XII century. It belonged to the Campatelli family. The medieval tower was incorporated into a XVII century palace. The last owner, Lucia Campatelli, donated the house and the tower in 2005 on condition that it be opened to the public as a museum. The tower is located at 15 Via San Giovanni.
Towers of the Ardinghelli(Torri degli Ardinghelli): belonged to one of the two most important families in the city. They are twin towers located in Piazza della Cisterna.
Chigi Tower (Torre Chigi): It is one of the lowest, but also one of the most beautiful in the city. It is located in Piazza Duomo.
Diavolo Tower (Torre delDiavolo): Perhaps the most photogenic, it can be found in Piazza della Cisterna.
Torre Rognosa or PodestàTower: It is the tower of the ancientPalazzo del Podestà, the seat of the governor. At 51 metres high, it is the oldest and is located in Piazza Duomo.
Grossa Tower (Torre Grossa):At 54 metres, it is the highest tower in San Gimignano. It belongs to the new Palazzo del Podestàand can be visited with the entrance fee of the Civic Museum. The tower stands in Piazza Duomo.
Pellari Tower (Torre diPalazzo Pellari): With its parallelepiped shape and pyramidal roof, it is situated in Piazza Pecori,but you can see it from Piazza della Cisterna.
Pesciolini Tower (Casa-Torre Pesciolini):Built in Florentine style in Via San Matteo.
Torre Pettini (Torre Pettini): With a height of only 30 metres, it is one of the lowest towers in town. It is located in Via Oro.
Towers of the Salvucci(Torri dei Salvucci): Twin towers, owned by another of the most important families in the city. They are located in Piazza delle Erbe.
Collegiate Tower (Campanile della Collegiata):It stands out in the city landscape as a symbol of religious power. It is located in Piazza Duomo.
This is a walk among tall giants and stories of power struggles.
GELATOWITH A TASTE OF ART
In San Gimignano it is impossible not to be moved by so much architectural beauty. It is a place that breathes art throughout its streets, steeped in culture and history. We´ll enjoy the moment even more with an authentic Italian gelato. It´s the ideal time to take a break...The Piazza della Cisternais the perfect place to take a break and have one of these famous gelati, where you can find some of the best ice cream shops in Italy and taste il gelato piú buono del mondo( “the best ice cream in the world” ).
One of them has won the world championship for the best gelatotwice. There is always a queue in this shop, nobody wants to miss their gelatobefore leaving the city. Don´t miss this unique opportunity!While you enjoy your delicious ice cream, you will see a travertine marble well from medieval times in the middle of the square. From it, water was drawn from a cistern located under the piazza, which gave it its name.
The place was the confluence of two important roads and the site of the market and popular festivals. Its slightly sloping pavement is covered with herringbone bricks, and marvellous palaces were built around it. At one end of the square there is a monumental arch which gave access to the medieval walls and was flanked by the immense Torre dei Becciand Torre dei Cugnanesi towers. Other wonderful buildings to be found in this area are:
Palazzo Razzi: The beautiful façade of this palace is made of different materials. Its ground floor is nowadays occupied by a bank.
Casa Salvestrini: A former pilgrims´ hospital which is currently a hotel.
Palazzo Tortoli: A palace with beautiful double pointed arched windows, it was the house of the Capitano del Popolo(Captain of the People).
Palazzo dei Cortesi(Cortesi Palace) and its Torre del Diavolo: According to the legend, its owner noticed an over-elevation of the tower after returning from a trip which was considered to be the work of the devil, hence the name of the tower.
It is the Diavolotower that is climbed in the video game "Assasin Creed". At the base of the building was the il viccolo dell´Orowhere gold was transformed into sheets.
On the other side of the square is the Palazzo Pellari, which is clad in stone on the ground floor and in brick on the upper floor. The twin Ardinghellitowers are also located here.
Piazza della Cisterna.53037 San Gimignano.
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