One of the most beautiful medieval villages in Europe
San Gimignano walking tour enables you to know one of the most beautiful villages in Europe, in the Province of Siena. Centre of commerce and halting-place for pilgrims and writers – just 30km from Siena –, the village is today famous for its wine and, above all, for its ancient towers which make its profile unmistakable among the surrounding hills.
We will start with our route from the Porta San Giovanni, ancient access to the historic centre which is still flanked by the 13th-century walls. The path that will open before us is still animated by souvenir and craft shops; in medieval times this was the obligatory route for pilgrims and wayfarers on the Via Francigena route. Entering the core of the town, you will be enveloped in the enchantment of Piazza della Cisterna which, thanks to the towers still surrounding it, is an exceptionally suggestive space, capable of evoking in your mind, along with the adjacent Piazza del Duomo, images of the times where these streets and squares were frequented by merchants and poets. From Piazza della Cisterna we move on with San Gimignano walking tour reaching Piazza del Duomo, where we can visit the beautiful Collegiate Church of San Gimignano.
Discover the charm of the Collegiate
In spite of the sobriety of its façade, the interior of the church is decorated with frescoes – of exquisite workmanship – made by artists of the 14th-century Sienese Painting school. As an alternative to the Collegiate, it is certainly worth visiting the ancient Palazzo Comunale (the town Hall), a medieval building which, in addition to hosting the rich Pinacoteca, is where we will be able to discover the secrets behind the love-themed frescoes in the Camera del Podestà. Visiting the ancient Camera del Consiglio (the Council Chamber) – decorated with images of knights and tournaments –, we will see where the poet Dante Alghieri gave an important political speech in the early 14th-century; here you will have the sensation of being able to relive the times when these rooms were intended for assemblies for the city government.
Visit the highest tower of San Gimignano
Another suggestive place to see in San Gimignano is the so-called Torre Grossa which, with its fifty-four meters high, allows you to enjoy a breathtaking view of the village of San Gimignano and all the surrounding area.
San Gimignano walking tour then continues through the streets of the historic centre; if you have not visited the Torre Grossa – or if you have visited it but you are still eager to enjoy panoramic views – we will go to visit the Rocca di Montestaffoli, a medieval fort that was used to control the village. From here, climbing for free on one of the castle towers, you can take beautiful pictures of the city towers. Descending from the hill of the fortress, we walk again the streets of the centre until we reach the Sant’Agostino Church.
Free access to this religious building enables you to appreciate masterpieces of renowned Florentine artists who worked here in the second half of the 15th-century, such as Benozzo Gozzoli –refined painter, a pupil of Beato Angelico – and Benedetto da Maiano.
Once the visit of the historical centre is over, it will be time to take a well-deserved break; what I propose for lunch is a stop at an organic farm, located a few kilometres outside the centre. If desired, there is the opportunity to make – on requests – a guided tour of both the vineyards and the cellars; then what you can do is taste the dishes and wines of the same farm.
The taste of Vernaccia
Among the wines, Vernaccia, the DOCG white wine of San Gimignano, is obviously the most prominent – the first one to obtain the DOC denomination in 1966. After lunch, I propose to discover another village in the province of Siena. It is a place that, unfortunately, is not known and appreciated as San Gimignano but it is absolutely worth visiting: the village I am talking about is Colle di Val d’Elsa. This charming town stands on the banks of the Elsa river of the same name and, during the Middle Ages, it was the subject of contention between the ancient rival cities of Florence and Siena. Its historic centre stands out for having preserved intact its ancient appearance with its towers and alleys that make it a village to be discovered by the less superficial tourist.
The visit of Colle di Val d’Elsa
We begin the tour of Colle di Val d’Elsa from the square dedicated to its most illustrious citizen: Arnolfo di Cambio, great sculptor and architect of the 13th-century who was the author of the former project of the Florence Cathedral. To reach the upper part of the town – the one preserving the most of historic and artistic heritage of Colle – we pass through a tunnel which, using a medieval link, was transformed by the French contemporary architect Jean Nouvel into a suggestive path to reach the upper area.
Of Colle alta (the high area of the city) we visit the Cathedral, a 16th-century building that preserves important paintings by Sienese artists, the Porta Campana, a jewel of Renaissance architecture, and the Porta Salis, one of the most significant examples of military architecture of the late Quattrocento, work by Florentine architects. We will conclude our San Gimignano and Colle di Val d’Elsa walking tour with a visit to the Crystal Museum; that of the crystal is a very delicate and complex process of which Colle boasts 95% of the national production and 15% of the world production.
But the colligiana crystal manifacturing is not only quantitative since what we can discover in the museum is a magnificent series of masterpieces – temporarily exhibited in the Palazzo dei Priori – that came out from the laboratories of expert craftsmen who still retain the secrets of this truly special art.
So, are you ready to leave for this exciting journey between art and history?