About an hour's drive
from Cortona, you can organize a day trip to San Gimignano; a very famous
town, with a glorious history.
San Gimignano was born along the Via Francigena
- initially a very small village (about 1000 years ago).
The trade and flow of people who travelled the
road that connected Canterbury to Rome (which also passed through Lucca, Siena,
Parma ...) made the town grow quickly; as did the construction of two
surrounding walls and a series of important buildings, all symbols of families
who were becoming rich and wanted to show off their lineage; the towers (there
are dozens of them, of which the tallest is the Torre Grossa, where the town
hall stands) are signs of the rivalry between the families as to who could be
the most visible.
After an initial phase
of growth, the town had setbacks due to the Black Plague of the mid-1300s (in
which more than half of the local population died). This was followed by a brief
return to prosperity before it plunged back down into relative obscurity under
the Florentine dominion, which centralized wealth and influence in the capital.
San Gimignano made a
comeback in the 19th century, when it was discovered by northern European tourists
who, seeing it as the perfect Medieval town, included it as a part of their
Grand Italian Tour.
From that moment on,
tourism became a constant and the town undertook to renew itself in the hope of
encouraging yet more tourism: Everything that had been added in the Florentine
style was removed (plastering, battlements etc...) and returned to a medieval
style, in order to attract tourists; facades were returned to brick and stone;
arcades and new spaces were created.
Today there is an
imposing fortified wall surrounding the town, a large historical town centre - piazzas,
antique wells, historic buildings, all in materials associated with the Middle
Ages ... it creates a unique atmosphere in a beautiful setting.
I can't suggest a
place to eat in San Gimignano, but there are at least two art galleries that
are worth visiting: the first is Galleria Continua, an evocative space created inside
an old theatre; it is home to exhibitions of internationally known artists with
galleries also based in Beijing, Paris, Havana, Rome.
Exhibit at Galleria Continua
The second is Galleria
Gagliardi, certainly more traditional, with a beautiful exhibition space and artists
Finally, I suggest a
visit to the Campitelli house, a nineteenth-century bourgeois residence, where
the Fai (the Italian Environmental Foundation) has created a small museum; you
can see photographs, details, and period furnishing in situ; an evocative moment
of living in the past.
Inside the museum
In addition, on the
top floor which in itself is a tower, you can look out onto the town and other
There is also a video
of about 30 minutes that tells the story of the town in a fun and accurate way.
The entrance fee is
E.7 – in my opinion 7 euro well spent.