At a one hour drive from the Agriturismo I Pitti, second for tourists only to the two giants of Siena and Florence, S. Gimignano, a town built on an ancient Etruscan hill, reached the peak of its splendour between the ninth and the eleventh centuries. The main road, in fact, was Via Romea which connected Rome to the transalpine provinces and which crossed Via Pisana in the Elsa Valley.
The charming town was named after the Holy Bishop of Modena – S. Gimignano -, credited with having saved it from the barbarian hordes.
The primitive nucleus lay between the two reference points nearest to the crossroads, the hill of the Tower (where the bishop’s castle was to be later built) and Montestaffoli, the future centre of secular power.
There were as many as nine lodgings for the merchants who came to the town every day and, as regards the local population, every family of a certain importance attempted to demonstrate its prestige by building a tower next to its house: there were as many as 72 of these slender constructions but most of them no longer exist.
The damage caused by dire events such as plagues and famines, decimated the population and saw many of the building structures collapse. This is a town where you can still breathe the atmosphere of the past. Surrounded by picture-postcard scenery, an aimless wander among the towers that give San Gimignano its distinctive skyline is like taking a 1000-year leap back in time.
The genteel charm of the streets and alleyways works its way around the town, passing ancient and prestigious buildings, small squares, churches, monasteries and museums.
From the architectural and urban point of view, S. Gimignano offers extremely particular perspective scenarios, such as the two adjoining squares, Piazza della Cisterna and Piazza del Duomo (or Collegiate), right in the middle of the town. Both have an irregular shape and are bounded by imposing stone buildings strengthened with towers: the latter (15 survivors) preserve the brick herring bone flooring that was characteristic of the Middle Ages.
While the Collegiate Square has a trapezoidal shape and is the centre of political and religious life, the Cisterna Square, with its well built in the middle in 1273 (then extended in 1346) to collect rain water, was once the location for markets and festivals. The octagonal well makes an elegant contrast to the triangular shape of the square which is built by the homes of the ancient families of the town (such as the Ardinghelli), the tower of the Becci and Palazzo Cortesi.
It’s best to stop off for a while at this ancient well in order to admire the wonderful view, photograph the medieval world surrounding you or simply close your eyes for a moment.
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