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Patrick Bureau

San Gimignano, Italy   
A small town of 7800 inhabitants, San Gimignano is located 56 km south of Florence in Italy. Its silhouette is unique, with many tower-houses and a dominant position, perched very high on top of a hill.

San Gimignano is considered one of the most picturesque fortified cities in Tuscany. This reputation rests on its feudal atmosphere, which carries a visitor back in time.

A former Etruscan village, the city takes its name from Saint Gimignano, Modena’s bishop who saved the city from the Barbarians in the Middle Ages. Due to its location in the Val d'Elsa, the city was an important stop for pilgrims travelling to Rome on the Via Francigena.



A bit of history 

In 1199, San Gimignano obtained its independence and enjoyed a period of prosperity that would last until 1353, the date of its submission to Florence.

The defensive walls were built in 1262; they were reinforced by a series of five cylindrical towers.

The town grew around two main squares: the Piazza della Cisterna, with a triangular plan and a beautiful well built in 1273, and Piazza Duomo, dating from the end of the 13th century, where the majority of the public and private monuments of historical interest in the city are located.

Masterpieces of Italian Art 

The Historic Center of San Gimignano was added to the World Heritage List in 1990 because of the masterpieces of Italian art from the 14th and 15th centuries that it conceals in its original setting. 

The Romanesque cathedral, dating from the 12th century, better known as the Collegiata Santa Maria Assunta or Duomo of San Gimignano, is located on Piazza Duomo, as the name suggests. Its façade is preceded by a beautiful flight of steps and is relatively sober. But do not rely on it; the interior conceals true treasures of religious art!

Numerous frescoes cover almost all of the walls of the cathedral. The most important are those of the Last Judgment, Heaven and Hell of Taddeo di Bartolo (1393), the Martyrdom of St. Sebastian by Benozzo Gozzoli (1465) and, above all, the admirable frescoes by Domenico Ghirlandaio such as the cycle of Santa Fina (1475) and the Annunciation in the Baptistery (1482).

Exceptional testimony to the Italian Middle Ages 

The historic center of San Gimignano has retained its architectural homogeneity and its original urban pattern, which is another universal value of the site highlighted by the World Heritage Committee.

A visit to the fortified city allows for an understanding of the spatial organization of a city from the Italian Middle Ages. Indeed, within a restricted perimeter, we find all the characteristic structures of urban life of the time: richly decorated noble palaces, Romanesque churches, towers and house-towers, squares, wells and fountains.

San Gimignano did not develop its own architectural style. The buildings located inside a double wall are representative of medieval architecture that was influenced by the styles of Florence, Siena and Pisa from the 12th to the 14th centuries.

The Palazzo Publico, or People's Palace, dates from the 13th century. The frescoes commissioned by the painter Memmo di Filippuccio to decorate the Camara del Podestà have been reproduced many times to illustrate everyday life at the beginning of the 14th century. Some even go so far as to evoke the joys of marriage by depicting nude spouses in their bed or in their bath.

The tower of the Palazzo Publico is slightly leaning in order to increase the vertical effect; it is the largest tower in the city with its 54 meters’ height. It is worth climbing the 154 steps that lead to the summit to enjoy a spectacular view of the city and the surrounding countryside.

Tower-houses: a symbol of wealth and power

The full name of the commune is San Gimignao "delle belle Torri". It is said that in the 12th century, the city boasted 72 towers, one for each family that was rich enough to afford to build this symbol of power and wealth. Thanks to competition, the highest reached 50 meters tall.

Over time, several towers have disappeared. The remaining 14 still bear witness to this important historical period.


Christiane Lefebvre

Source : http://whc.unesco.org/fr/list/550, site accessed in April 2017.



Piazza della Cisterna

Piazza Duomo 

A cylindrical tower 

Santa Fina's funeral, Ghirlandaio

Fortified tower-house