San Gimignano

The council of San Gimignano, whose place name comes from the name of the Saint who saved the town from invasion by the Goths, is in the province of Siena. At a height of 325m above sea level it has a population of about 7,000 inhabitants.

In this council you can admire the churches of St. Iacopo and St. Peter, the Collegiate of St. Mary of the Assumption with the Chapel of St. Fina, the Cathedral, the Museum of Sacred Art, the Podestà Palazzo and the Pratellesi Palazzo.

In ancient times San Gimignano was a tiny village in the Greek-Etruscan period (III-II centuries BC). There is however some evidence of a more remote presence. The sacred area of Pugiano, still visible in the valley of the Riguardi river, seems in fact to date back to the Archaic-Etruscan era. The legend about the foundation of the city instead attributes its birth to the settlement of Silvio, one of the Roman patricians who fled after the failed plot against Catiline. The year of foundation would be 63 BC, with the rising of the Silvia village.

By medieval times Silvia was consolidated and took the name of the Bishop of Modena Gimignano, who it is said foiled the invasion of the town by Totila’s barbaric hordes with his apparition. Thanks to the Via Francigena, San Gimignano saw the development of a growing number of churches and convents in the surrounding area. The route, opened by the Longobards along the ancient Via Cassia and subsequently controlled by the Franks, represents an authentic thoroughfare that links Northern Europe to Rome.

In 1199 the city became an autonomous council, freeing itself of the dominion of the bishopric of Volterra. In this era the village suffered internal divisions between Papal-supporting Guelphs and Empire-supporting Ghibellines, who caused a real “civil war” in the territory. Among the numerous diplomats welcomed to the city to resolve the fratricide that was storming Tuscany was Dante Alighieri, present in 1300. The plague in the mid-14th century aggravated the socio-economic crisis in the village which, in 1354, accepted submission to the authority of the Florentine Republic. From that moment San Gimignano became one of the most important centres of the Florentine county, despite its obvious demographic decline. Of the 13,000 inhabitants at the beginning of the 14th century only 3,000 remained at the end of the 15th century.

The degradation of its social make-up and the fall in the number of inhabitants meant that construction did not particularly interfere in the structure of the town centre. In recent times, therefore, the citizens of San Gimignano have realised they owned an authentic, valuable, open-air, artistic heritage. With all of its medieval structure still intact, the council has been recently added to the list of UNESCO-protected heritages.