San Gimignano is known all over the world for its emblematic towers that have remained standing over the years, unlike the towers of big towns such as Bologna and Florence that were brought down by war. However, when Florence seized power of San Gimignano, may towers were demolished: 14 of the original 72 towers remain to watch over the town. One of them, the Torre Grossa, is the highest remaining tower. Due to urban regulations that have been imposed, no tower can now be built higher than it. At 61 m high, taking a tour of the Torre Grossa is an absolute must in San Gimignano.
Among the religious buildings to check out is the Collegiata (open Mon-Fri 9.30am-7.30pm, Sat 9.30am-5.00pm, Sun 12.30am-5.30pm; admission ticket €3.5 or 5.5 also for the Museo d’Arte Sacra). Once serving as a cathedral, it now stands close to the current cathedral. It houses a superb collection of frescoes themed on the Old and the New Testaments (Picture 1). Frescoes in Italian Renaissance style adorning the building date back to the 14th century. Three naves are separated by columns and arches in black and white. The vaulted blue ceiling is bedecked with stars. The back wall is embellished with Taddeo di Bartolo’s Last Judgment (14th century) and Benozzo Gozzoli’s Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian (Picture 2). Taddeo di Bartolo’s Paradise and Inferno occupy both upper sides of the back wall. The left wall of the altar has frescoes representing the creation of the world, the forbidden fruit scene, Adam and Eve being evicted from paradise, Abel being murdered by Cain, Noah´s Ark, the Jews being led by Moses and the story of Job. Inside the Collegiata on its right side lies the Cappella di Santa Fina embellished by Domenico Ghirlandaio’s frescoes and an alabaster and marble altar.
The Romanesque 13th century Chiesa di Sant’ Agostino (open 7.00am-12.00midday & 3.00-7.00pm; free admission) is also decorated with frescoes representing events in the life of Santa Fina, painted by Benozzo Gozzoli. It lies in the extreme north-eastern area of San Gimignano. The Neapolitan engineer and architect Luigi Vanvitelli, favourite architect of Charles VII of Naples, executed the restoration carried out in the 18th century following the rococo style. Piero del Pollaiulo’s Coronation of the Virgin (15th century) is one of its highlights. The friars of the church will provide visitors with all the information about its beauties.
The Cappella of Saint Bartolo features a marble altar sculpted by Benedetto da Maiano in the 1400s. The bas-relief on it depicts the miracles worked by angels and a big medallion with Mary and the Divine Infant.
There are four piazzas in this historic walled town: Piazza della Cisterna, Piazza Duomo, Piazza Pecori, and Piazza delle Erbe.
Piazza del Duomo is where the Collegiata, the Palazzo del Podestà, the Torre della Rognosa, and the town hall are located.
The Piazza della Cisterna is a lovely square with a medieval well that is no longer in use. This square was named after the cistern. In the 13th and 14th century most towers and building were constructed around this square. The triangular Piazza della Cisterna is ringed by the Razzi House with its mullioned windows, the 13th century Salvestrini House, at present housing a hotel, the Sienese style Tortoli-Treccani Palace, the Lupi Palace and its Tower of the Devil, and the Ardinghelli and Cortesi Palaces. On Thursdays a market is held in this square.
The Piazza Sant'Agostino sits on the site of a former garden named after the saint. The Chiesa di Sant´Agostino tours of the square.
Via San Matteo and Via San Giovanni are the two thoroughfares going from north to south. Along the Via San Giovanni are medieval buildings such as the Gothic Pratellesi Palace, the Cugnanesi Tower, and Becci’s Arch.
The small yet priceless Pinacoteca Civica in the Palazzo Pubblico houses beautiful art (open daily, Mar-Oct 9.30-7.00, Nov-Feb 10.00-5.00; €5 including the Torre Grossa, €2 audioguides).Erected in the 13th century, the Palazzo Pubblico houses art by Pinturicchio, Benozzo Gozzoli, Filippino Lippi, Domenico di Michelino, Pier Francesco Fioarentino and many more. The palace was enlarged in the 16th century and underwent modifications in the 19th century when the Neo-Gothic façade was added. It was first the seat of the Podestà and now houses the town picture gallery. It displays masterpieces such as frescoes and religious artifacts. The tower in the palace provides visitors with great views of San Gimignano and the surrounding scenery.
The Fortress of San Gimignano houses the Wine Museum. Local sommeliers will give you recommendations on the white wines from the area..
San Gimignano 1300 (Via Berignano 23; open daily; €5 adults, €3 children; audioguides upon request) will give you the chance to experience the atmosphere of medieval times as there is a life size reproduction town of the 13th century in the heart of San Gimignano. Discover the architecture, social life, and history of the Middle Ages in this museum.
The Museo Ornitologico (Via Quercecchio-Oratorio di San Francesco; open Apr-Oct 11am-6pm) exhibits an ornithological collection prepared at the end of the 19th century. It lies south of the rocca.
The Museo d’Arte Sacra (Piazza Pecori) displays religious art pieces, medieval statues made of wood, artefacts made of precious metals, handcrafted artefacts, vestments, crosses and manuscripts collected from different churches in town. Do not miss the chilling Il Volto Adorato painted by Sebastiano Mainardi.
The Museo Archeologico (Via Folgore da San Gimignano) showcases art of Etruscan, Roman and medieval origin unearthed from the area around San Gimignano. There is also a modern art gallery with pieces by Renato Guttuso and Raffaele de Grada. La Speziera is one of the sections of the museum. Its collection consists of vessels and ceramics discovered in the restored 16th century Speziera di Santa Fina.
The old theatre on Via del Castello houses the Galleria Continua whose rooms exhibit collections for about two months. The exhibits are pieces made by artists from different parts of the world. The Galleria aims to attract different types of artists to exhibit their art in San Gimignano. Another Galleria Continua was opened in Beijing, China.
The rocca (translation: big rock), built during the Florentine rule, is the remains of the fortress of San Gimignano set in the south-western area and provides enchanting views of the surroundings.
To get a real taste of medieval times head for Porta San Giovanni (Picture 3), a city gate in the southern part of San Gimignano erected in the 13th century. Porta San Matteo and Porta San Giovanni were reconstructed in the 13th century. This gate was used as a northern exit in the Middle Ages..
There are combined tickets which help visitors make the most of the sights in San Gimignano. One of them includes the Palazzo Comunale, its museum, the Museo Archeologico, the Torre Grossa and more attractions. The second combined ticket includes the Collegiata and the Museo d’Arte Sacra.