Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Towers of San Gimignano: A Medieval Gem





Visually striking and perfectly preserved, 'San Gimignano delle belle Torri' is the epitome of the perfect Tuscan hill town with its iconic skyline of medieval towers. San Gimignano's location on the pilgrimage route to Rome brought it prosperity during the Middle Ages. Originally an Etruscan village, the settlement was named after the bishop of Modena, San Gimignano, who is said to have saved the city from Attila the Hun. When the town became independent between the 11th and the 13th century, the noble families and upper middle-class merchants who controlled the free town, built soaring tower-houses as symbols of their wealth and power, of which 14 of its original 72 towers still stand. 


A UNESCO World Heritage Site, San Gimignano has retained its feudal ambiance, with the historic centre acclaimed as a cultural site of exceptional importance. Treasured for its architectural homogeneity and original urban layout, the buildings within the town’s double wall provide a shining example of medieval architecture with influences of Florentine, Sienese, and Pisan styles from the 12th to the 14th century, with the Church of Sant' Agostina best known for Benozzo Gozzoli's charming fresco cycle from the 14th and 15th centuries, illustrating the life of St Augustine. It was also used as a film location in 1999 for Tea with Mussolini by movie director Franco Zeffirelli. On a culinary note, the town also is known for saffron and its white wine, Vernaccia di San Gimignano, produced from the ancient variety of Vernaccia grape which is grown on the sandstone hillsides of the area. Meeting our tour guide Sylvia for a private two hour tour of the town, were were given a local's perspective on this medieval jewel.



The main gate of Porta San Giovanni into San Gimignano

Via San Giovanni with the Campanile di San Gimignano

The 13th-century entrance gate of San Gimignano with the Arco and Torre de Becci

The Piazza della Cisterna with cistern built in 1287, was the original marketplace of San Gimignano

The Piazza del Duomo with the Palazzo del Pópolo and Torre Grossa, the tallest tower in San Gimignano, and the Duomo also known as Basilica Collegiata di Santa Maria Assunta

Sylvia, our wonderful 'Tours by Locals' guide 

Interior of the Basilica

Fresco cycle depicting scenes from the Old Testament are on one of the Basiica

On the opposite wall is a fresco cycle with scenes from the New Testament

Scenes of Hell similar to Dante's Inferno

Sculpture of San Gimignano after whom the town is named

The Torri dei Salvucci in Piazza del Duomo are also called the “Torri Gemelle”

Piazza del Duomo with Palazzo Vecchio del Podestà 

Originally a castle of the Lombard Astolfo, later a Dominican Convent, the Rocco di Montestaffoli fortress was built by the Florentines in 1353 to protect it from possible attacks by Siena

View from the Rocco to the 12th-century Church of Sant'Agostino

Interior of the Church of St Augustine, in Romanesque style with Gothic elements 

The seventeen panel fresco cycle on The Life of St Augustine by Benozzo Gozzoli 
painted between 1463 and 1467

Fresco ceiling detail 

The tranquil cloister of Sant'Agostino

After a morning of climbing the winding lanes of san Gimignano plus the hot 30° weather, 
a cold beer was the perfect pick-me-up



When the Slow Food Movement began in Italy, Ristorante Dorando was one of the first restaurants to deliver on the goal of incredible food, great wine list and time to sit down and enjoy a meal at leisure. Set in the heart of San Gimignano, between the charming Piazza Duomo and Piazza Cisterna, Dorando is part of a 14th-century building. Lovingly and beautifully restored, the food and wine are the focus in this fabulous restaurant where we had lunch the day we spent in San Gimignano. Comprised of three private rooms with vaulted roofs and imposing stone walls, the menu takes inspiration from the flavours of traditional Tuscan cuisine, all prepared with fresh natural seasonal produce and a top notch cellar offering a wide selection of exclusively Tuscan wines, including a delicious Santa Chiara Vernaccia di San Gimignano.



Located down a narrow alley in the cellars of a 14th-century building
is Ristorante Dorando

The elegant interior of La Dorando

Amuse-Bouche of home made ricotta, pumpkin purée and olive oil poached cherry tomato

Platter of Tuscan cured meats with local Pecorino cheeses with fruit mustard

Pappardelle with Cinghiale Ragu

Quail and fried quail egg with truffles and onion filled with sweet sour and celeriac 

Hot Macchiato