This is an excerpt of the book “Siena, Volterra, San Gimignano“
San Gimignano is a pretty medieval walled city in Tuscany, Italy, well known of its large number of campaniles. The town is also known as the “Manhattan of the Middle Ages”. Competing families tried to build the highest campanile to impress each other.
Here the plague raged in 1464 and 1631, starting a period of decadence for the town: the town-walls fell to pieces, the Medieval mansions fell into disrepair and no one had enough money to stop all this, as the richest and most important families had left the town because of the plague. Consequently, the architectural and artistic heritage remained untouched for four centuries, and the town preserved its medieval characteristic architecture intact.
Getting around on foot – it’s very small, and you must disembark from your car or bus outside the city walls, in any case.
The Collegiata, the nearest to a Duomo (cathedral) in this small city, is beautiful and contains a splendid series of frescoes on Old and New Testament subjects.
The Pinacoteca Civica (civic painting gallery/museum) in the Palazzo Pubblico is small but also has wonderful art inside.
The church of Sant’Agostino in the northeastern part of the city contains a set of great frescoes on the life of St. Augustine by Benozzo Gozzoli.
The panorama of the countryside from the Rocca (literally, a big rock) in the southwestern part of the city.
The Piazza della Cisterna, a beautiful piazza with an old stone well (no longer used) in the middle.
In part from Wikitravel.org
Some San Gimignano’s History
San Gimignano rises on a hill (334m high) dominating the Elsa Valley with its towers.
The first legend about the town can be dated back to the Roman period when Silvio and his followers are said to have settled here leaving Roma after Catilina’s conspiracy. Therefore Silvia, the ancient name of the town, probably came from Silvio.
Once the seat of a small Etruscan village of the Hellenistic period (200-300 BC) it began its life as a town in the 10th century taking its name from the Holy Bishop of Modena, St. Gimignano, who is said to have saved the village from the barbarian hordes.
The town of San Gimignano increased in wealth and developed greatly during the Middle Ages thanks to the “Via Francigena” the trading and pilgrim’s route that crossed it. Such prosperity lead to the flourishing of works of art to adorn the churches and monasteries.
In 1199 San Gimignano became a free municipality and fought against the Bishops of Volterra and the surrounding municipalities. Due to internal power struggles it eventually divided into two factions one headed by the Ardinghelli family (Guelphs) and the other by the Salvucci family (Ghibellines).
In 1227 the town of San Gimignano had 7000 inhabitants and it was the most important producer of saffron that was exported to Pisa, Lucca, Genova and also to France and the Low Countries.
On the 8th May 1300 Dante Alighieri came to San Gimignano as the Ambassador of the Guelph League in Tuscany. In 1348 San Gimignano’s population was drastically reduced by the Black Death Plague throwing the city into a serious crisis which eventually led to its submission to Florence in 1353.
In the following centuries San Gimignano overcame its decline and isolation when its beauty and cultural importance together with its agricultural heritage were rediscovered. The construction of the towers dates back to the 11th and 13th centuries.
The architecture of the city was influenced by Pisa, Siena and Florence. There are 14th century paintings of the Sienese School to be seen and 15th century paintings of the Florentine School.
Here the plague raged again in 1464 and 1631, starting a period of decadence for the town: the town-walls fell to pieces, the Medieval mansions fell into disrepair and no one had enough money to stop all this, as the richest and most important families had left the town because of the plague. Consequently, the architectural and artistic heritage remained untouched for four centuries.
The history of the cultivation of saffron takes us back hundreds of years; many documents have been found that testify that to its intensive cultivation at San Gimignano during the Middle Ages. As a product worth a great deal of money it was very important to the merchants of those times and to the city’s economy. In 1228 the Town Council of San Gimignano paid its debts, incurred during the siege of the “Castello della Nera”, partly in money and partly in saffron.
In 1276 the Council introduced taxation on imports and exports. The export duty produced such a great deal of money that in 1295 the Council decided that it was worth assigning two officials adept in the weighing of saffron to be permanently present at the gates of the City where the export duty was levied.
The extremely pure saffron of San Gimignano is produced naturally without the use of any chemical products in all phases of its cultivation, drying and conservation.
The saffron of San Gimignano is extremely pure. It is produced naturally and no chemical products are used in any phase of its cultivation, drying and conservation. The saffron stamens are packaged whole in order to guarantee their pure quality as well as to protect their strong pungent and slightly bitterish aroma.
Now, at San Gimignano, the countryside once again cultivates saffron, alongside its other high quality produce, thanks to the program of reintroduction organized by the association “Il Croco”.
The reintroduction of this famous flower has also been made possible thanks to the help of the UNIVERSITY of Florence and the contribution of the Province of Tuscany through ARSIA. Only packages bearing the logo illustrated here contain the extremely pure saffron of San Gimignano.
Repeated chemical and organic testing has demonstrated that the saffron of San Gimignano is of the very highest quality so much so that application has been made for DOP. identification (the European Union symbol indicating protected origin).
end of the excerpt, you can buy the full content without advertising: “Siena, Volterra, San Gimignano“
Where to stay in San Gimignano
There are numerous high quality hotels, villas, apartments and agriturismi (Farm stays) available in Siena, check them out and make a reservation here.