Hi! Thanks for stopping by! Living in Italy gave us so much time to explore the villages off the beaten path! After some research, we had to visit the San Gimignano Towers– a gorgeous ancient city (only 30 minutes south of Florence!) Come along on our exploration of this UNESCO world heritage site in Tuscany, Italy, and read our guide on what to see and do.
History of San Gimignano
The town of San Gimignano dates back to 3rd century BC, and was originally named after the founding brothers who built the first castle there. However, it was changed after the bishop from Modena, Saint Geminianus, saved the castle from an attack from none other than Attila the Hun! You thought he was just in movies!
In the Middle Ages, the town was prosperous with trading of local products like golden ham, saffron, and wine from the Vernaccia grape. It was like living in heaven, but with prosperity comes conflict. Local families started building huge towers to show off who had the most power. True story!
Whoever had the tallest tower reigned supreme! So, they kept out doing each other. At one time, 72 towers were in this little village, some as high as 70 meters (230 feet.) Holy tower power!
Finally, the city put an end to this silliness. Building any tower taller than the clock tower in the center square was restricted.
Some of the power families ignored this law, but eventually the towers were cut down to size!
The city continued to flourish until it was hit by the Black Plague in 1348. Then, it was forgotten until the 19th century when tourists found this cute little tower town. In 1990, the city center was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today, it is a gorgeous and bustling village, however only 14 of the 72 San Gimignano towers still stand.
How to Get To San Gimignano
The closet airport is in Florence. However, you can fly into Florence, Rome, or even Milan.
Once you get to Italy, it is easy to rent a car and drive south from Milano and Florence, or north from Rome.
Where to Stay in San Gimignano
You have to stay in on of the ancient San Gimignano towers! It is a must in the city of towers! Our choice – Fabio Apt Gimignano. It is in the historic city center, walking distance to everything. It is owned by San Gimignano locals, Fabio and Sara. They have rooms for families, full kitchens, free WiFi, and they will help you find a place to park. This is the full San Gimignano experience!
What to Do and See in San Gimignano
The best way to see the city is to walk. Wander around and enjoy the sites. We are huge fans of the Guided Walking Tours! We always learn so many cool things from the local guides. It’s a two-hour tour and totally worth your time! To take a guided tour of San Gimignano and its towers, reserve tickets here.
The San Gimignano Towers
Piazza della Cisterna
This piazza is in the main square of town. The funny thing about it – it is not square! It is shaped like a triangle. Near the center of the square is a large cistern, thus the name. This is where the locals used to get their clean water. It was built in 1346. The plaza is lined with ancient homes, towers, and restaurants and is still a social meeting point for the locals. Feel free to grab vino and relax!
If you look to the left of the cistern, you will see Palazzo Tortoli which was once a historic palace in San Gimignano. You can tell which building it is by the double row of arched windows with white marble columns running through the middle.
Torre del Diavolo
If you go north of the piazza, to Palazzo dei Cortesi, you will see Devils Tower (Torre del Diavolo.) Legend says the owner left for a trip and when he returned the tower was somehow taller than when he left. The townspeople decide this must have been the work of the devil, and the name stuck. Seems like a tall tale (hee hee – pun intended.)
If you look to the left of the tower, you will see a small street – Vicolo dell’Oro. Oro means gold, and this was the street where many of the goldsmiths worked. These special goldsmiths would beat gold until it was paper-thin to use as decorations. Cool, right?
Next, you can see the Old Palace of the Podesta, built in the 12th century, where the mayor lived. It was also a jail. In the archway is Theather dei Leggieri.
Do you see the giant tower with a clock? This is the second tallest tower in San Gimignano, standing at 51 meters (167 feet high.) It is one of the best preserved, and this tower is the one that the city said no other towers could be taller than back in the day.
Torre dei Cugnanesi
In the SW corner of the piazza is Arco dei Becci. This was the original gate to the city. It was protected by the large tower to the left, Torre die Cugnanesi. If you look closely, you can see what looks like a military overlook, used for protection. In actuality, this was the wall of the original ancient city.
Torre dei Becci
To the left of Cugnanesi, you will see another large tower coming from the heart of the building, Torre dei Becci, dating back to the 13th century. The Becci family members were wealthy merchants and politicians. Like the other towers, this was built to show power.
Torri degli Ardinghelli
The Ardinghelli family was one of the most important families of San Gimignano. They became rich by trade and finance. The Salvucci family, their archenemies, was the other powerful family in town. These two towers were built to anger the Salvucci family. They were built higher than the Clock Tower but were cut down due to the height law.
Pellari Palace Tower
Directly to the left of the Ardinghelli towers sits the Pellari Tower. No one knows the exact date of its construction. A good guess is around 1237. It is a simple tower, and you can pick it out by the decorative brick, slanted roof, and lack of windows.
Torri dei Salvucci
These two towers belonged to the other most important family of the city, the Salvucci family. These were built to surpass the two Ardinghelli towers on the other side of the square. They were taller than the allowed height and have been cut down to size. The locals call them the twin towers.
In the heart of San Gimignano, on Via San Giovanni, you can see the House and Tower Campatelli (built near the end of the 12th century.) Over the years, it has had many facelifts and additions. It is the only tower in town to have the original interior restored with furnishings. To see the house and tower, you should reserve tickets ahead of time –> reserve tickets here <– It’s a very cool place!
The Chigi Tower is the small tower in the middle of the Salvucci towers and Clock Tower. This tower is one of the smallest and was built in 1280. It’s the cute one in the middle of the photo.
The big tower is the highest tower of San Gimignano (hence the name) and is located directly next to the church. You can go up the tower and enjoy the views. It was built in 1311 and stands 177 feet tall (54 meters.)
This piazza is north of Piazza della Cistern and is where the main church of the San Gimignano stands. Inside the church are some amazingly preserved frescos. Stop by and take a look!
City Hall and Museum of Sacred Art
To the left of the church, you will see the gorgeous City Hall. You can walk around to a small courtyard. There is also gorgeous art, frescos and ancient relics, inside the City Hall at the Museum of Sacred Art. It is open daily and you can pay at the door.
The square just down from City Hall is known as Piazza della Propositura. At the right side of the square is the Lodge of the Baptistery. It has beautifully engraved scenes showing the baptism of Jesus.
Don’t forget to taste the local cheese and wine! San Gimignano is one of the few areas in Tuscany known for white wine. If you want to do a local wine tour, reserve tickets here. I mean, it is wine country. Mamma Mia!
I know you are hungry after all that walking! Check out the gourmet shops in San Gimignano known for selling wild boar sausage and prosciutto. If you are a food lover or cook, and want to take a local cooking class paired with dinner and wine, reserve tickets here.
Lastly, in the main square, is the most famous gelato shop in Italy, Galateria Dondoli. It has won “best gelato” in Italy and Europe, multiple times. You will see a huge line, but it is worth the wait. If you are looking for info on eating out in Italy, check out how to dine out in Italy.
If you have not had enough of towers in Tuscany, Check out this guide on how to enjoy the Tower of Pisa without the crowds. Pisa is only a hop, skip, and a jump from San Gimignano. There is another little know lake town, called Lake Orta, that if you are looking for cool and unknown this is the place.
The spoken language in San Gimignano is Italian, and English speakers are limited. If you want the full experience of Italy, take a free Italian lesson with our friends at Pimsleur.
I hope you enjoyed the Towers of San Gimignano as much as we did! Did I forget anything or do you have any questions? If so, please drop a comment below!
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