Sunday, 4 May 2014

San Gimignano, Italy

San Gimignano is best known as the Town of Fine Towers. The towers make a special silhouette against the skyline and are seen from far away. It is also famous for its medieval architecture and the preservation of about a dozen of the tower houses. The historic centre is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The town is also know for its white wine, Vernaccia di San Gimignano which is produced from an ancient variety of the Vernaccia grape which is grown on the sandstone hillside of the area. We fell in love not only with the town but also with the wine. It is very fresh and fruity and can be enjoyed together with a view over the surroundings.

Here we enjoy the wonderfully fresh
Vernaccia wine and some red....

...overlooking this view!
Like Volterra it started out as an Etruscan village. In the 1st century, two patrician brothers, Muzio and Silvio fled Rome and built two castles, Mucchio and Silvio which is now San Gimignano. From 929 the town was ruled by the bishops of Volterra. In the Middle Ages and Renaissance era Catholic Pilgrims stopped here on their way to Rome. Trade also improved with growing of agricultural products from the fertile hills. Saffron was one product that was used both in cooking and dyeing cloth.

In 1199 the town made itself independent from the Volterra bishops and established a podestà, and started to beautify the city with churches and public buildings. However, for the next two centuries the peace was disturbed by conflicts between Guelphs and Ghibellines and family rivalries. This is the reason for all the towers. Families were building higher and higher towers and at the end of the Medieval period there were 72 towers, some as high as 70 metres (230 feet) tall. In the end the order was restored and the council restricted the height of the towers to be less than that of the Palazzo Comunale.

The town flourished until 1348 when it was struck by the plague. The Black Death affected all of Europe and in San Gimignano about half of the people died. The town then came under the rule of Florence. This inspired some Florentine style palazzos and many towers were reduced to the height of the houses. Luckily, there was not much further development and the town has preserved its medieval state until present days.

We took a slow stroll through the streets, aiming upwards as usual, to the Piazza Grande. In this area you find many of the towers. You really are transferred back in time and it is another pace. Looking into the wonderful small shops with Italian specialities and wine is a treat. Unfortunately, we only travelled with hand luggage so we had to enjoy the goodies on site. Well, I guess, that is probably the best.
Wine, cheese, salami, prosciutto...what more do you need to make the day?

Literature and film in San Gimignano

Not to forget the literary connections.

On May 8, 1300, Dante Alighieri visited San Gimignano in his role of ambassador of the Guelph League in Tuscany.

Tea with Mussolini, a drama from 1999 about English and American expatriate women in Italy during World War II was filmed here. The frescos that are seen in the film can be found inside the Duomo.

Franco Zeffirelli used it as a stand-in for the town of Assisi when he filmed St. Francis of Assisi. Most of the "Assisi" scenes were filmed here.

In the novel The Broker by John Grisham, Joel Backman takes his second of three wives on vacation in Italy to keep her from divorcing him. They rent a 14th-century monastery near San Gimignano for a month.

A fictionalised version of the town is featured in E.M. Forster's novel Where Angels Fear to Tread as Monteriano.

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