San Gimignano is a small town that can truly take you back to the Middle Ages: high towers, quaint squares with wells and fountains, narrow winding streets, Romanesque churches, palaces, it is truly an unforgettable place.
During Catiline conspiracy against the Roman Republic in the 1st century, two patrician brothers, Muzio and Silvio, fled Rome for Valdelsa and built two castles, Mucchio and Silvia(now San Gimignano). The name of Silvia was changed to San Gimignano in 450 AD after the Saint of Modena, Bishop Geminianus intervened to spare the castle from destruction by the followers of Attila the Hun. As a result, a church was dedicated to the Saint and in the 6th and 7th centuries a walled village grew around it called the "Castle of San Gimignano" or Castle of the Forest because of the extensive woodland surrounding it. From 929 the town was ruled by the bishops of Volterra.
It became a stop on the Via Francigena for pilgrims journeying to and from Rome, and it gain its independence in 1199. The name was changed into San Gimignano delle Belle Torri, and with the pilgrims bringing money the little town entered a long period of prosperity that lasted until 1353. That year, it fell under the rule of Florence.
The town was controlled by two rival families - the Ardinghelli, Guelph sympathizers, and theSalvucci, who were Ghibellines. For two centuries the two clans fought each other, and to show their wealth and power they built 72 tower houses. Only 14 have survived: Cugnanesi house; Pesciolini house; Palazzo Franzesi-Ceccarelli house; the twin towers of the Ardinghellis; the tower of the Benuccis; Casa Rodolfi and the Palazzo Razzi; Palazzo dei Cortesi; Torre della Rognosa; Torre Chigi; Palazzo del Popolo with the Torre Grossa which rises to 177 feet and faces the twin towers of the Salvucci on the north.
Located in the heart of the city, the museum San Gimignano 1300 offers a massive reconstruction of the city as it existed 700 years ago. Architects, historians, and a team of artists worked nearly 3 years to create this spectacular and unprecedented exhibition. The exhibit includes 800 meticulously handcrafted structures, 72 towers, street scenes, and figurines.
In Piazza del Duomo, at the town's heart, you will find the Romanesque Collegiate Church of Santa Maria Assunta. It contains a series of masterpieces of the 14th- and 15th-century - Domenico Ghirlandaio, Benozzo Gozzoli, Taddeo di Bartolo, Lippo Memmi and Bartolo di Fredi in their original architectural settings. The fresco of the Last Judgment, Heaven and Hell by Taddeo di Bartolo (1393), the Martyrdom of S. Sebastian by Benozzo Gozzoli, and the magnificent frescoes by Domenico Ghirlandaio - the cycle of Santa Fina, the Annunciation in the St John baptistry. Other works of the same outstanding beauty include the huge frescoes by Benozzo Gozzoli depictingSt. Sebastian and St. Augustine.
The frescoes by Memmo di Filippuccio inside Palazzo del Popolo are among the most frequently reproduced documents used to illustrates daily life in the early 1300s.
The "Historic Centre of San Gimignano" is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The town is also known for the Vernaccia di San Gimignano, a white wine produced from the ancient variety of Vernaccia grape which is grown on the sandstone hillsides of the area; the gentle and fruity extra-virgin olive oil of San Gimignano with its notes of artichoke, cardoon, freshly-cut grass, and almond; saffron; Tuscan ham and salame. Thursday is market day in Piazza del Duomo where you can also find Tourist Information center.
There is plenty to see in the area and the town is close to cultural jewels such as Florence, Siena, Arezzo; it is a perfect location for a week vacation in Italy all year around.