Val d'Elsa
Val d'Elsa

What to do in San Gimignano, complete guide

What to do in San Gimignano, the city of medieval towers

San Gimignano is one of the best preserved medieval villages in Tuscany. Its urban plan, developed over the centuries XIII and XIV, has remained largely unchanged to this day.
The distinguishing feature of the town are the towers and tower-houses which, in its heyday, were 72! Of all these towers today still remain 14.

visit san gimignano towers
Towers in San Gimignano

The main axis of the town consists of a part of the Via Francigena that crosses San Gimignano through the city gates of San Matteo (north gate) and San Giovanni (south gate).
In the town center there are some squares, Piazza del Duomo, Piazza della Cisterna and Piazza delle Erbe, where are located many of the towers that made San Gimignano famous in the world.

The history of the settlement

The site, inhabited since Etruscan times, is mentioned already in the 10th century among the stages of the route of the Via Francigena. During the 12th century, San Gimignano became a free Ghibelline town. During this period started its phase of maximum splendor. The village went through a period of strong economic growth based both on trade in local products such as saffron and on financial speculation.
But in the 14th century, as a result of infighting among the most powerful families, war, famine and plague, the city began to decline, and in 1351 it passed under the control of Florence.

Panoramic view of San Gimignano
Panoramic view of San Gimignano (Photo by Johnny Johansson – Kaneos Media)

What to see in San Gimignano

San Gimignano can be considered as an open air museum, here any building is noteworthy. In addition to the already mentioned towers, there are many monuments to see as the Duomo, the Palazzo del Podestà, the Palazzo del Popolo and many museums; we are lucky that there is a cumulative ticket, that lasts 2 days, for the Museo Civico, Pinacoteca, Torre Grossa, Museo Archeologico, Spezieria di Santa Fina, San Lorenzo in Ponte abd the Galleria d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea. The regular ticket costs 9 euro; the reduced one is 7 euro (kids 6-17 years old, over 65 and groups); free for kids till 6 years and disables.

What can we see in San Gimignano?

The visit

Our visit begins from the southern area of the city, where is a large parking lot and the bus stop for the busses coming from Siena. Our walk starts crossing the walls of San Gimignano through Porta San Giovanni; think how many medieval travellers have crossed this city gate that stands along the via Francigena… Now it’s time to discover the city centre of San Gimignano!

Walking along via San Giovanni, we meet the first among the famous towers of San Gimignano: Torre Campatelli, Torre dei Cugnanesi and Torre dei Becci, located near arco dei Becci, the passage that allow us to get to Piazza della Cisterna.

Piazza della Cisterna

Now we are in one of the central squares of San Gimignano: Piazza della Cisterna. Beautiful with its triangular shape, its buildings and medieval towers, everyone are impressed by this square and its suggestive glimpses. The name of the square came from the cistern located in the centre. On our right we can see some beautiful buildings as palazzo Razzi and palazzo Tortoli; along the opposite side of the arco dei Becci there are palazzo dei Cortesi and torre del Diavolo; on our left the Torri degli Ardinghelli.

San Gimignano Piazza della Cisterna
Piazza della Cisterna

Piazza del Duomo

Just beyond the torri degli Ardinghelli, an open passage links Piazza della Cisterna with one of the most beautiful squares in Tuscany: Piazza del Duomo.
This square is the heart of di San Gimignano; here there are the higher towers, Torre Grossa and Torre Rognosa, the Duomo and the historic government buildings: Palazzo del Podestà and Palazzo del Popolo.

Duomo di San Gimignano

Built in romanesque style between the 12th and the 13th centuries, the Duomo di san Gimignano (Collegiata di Santa Maria Assunta) is located atop of a staircase. To a sober facade correspond an interior very fully decorated with frescoes. Along the three naves we can admire many extraordinay frescoes as the Old Testament Cycle by Bartolo di Fredi on the left nave and the Storie del New Testament Cycle,  painted by the brothers Lippo and Federico Memmi, right nave. Other magnifique frescoes, as the Taddeo di Bartolo‘s Last Judgment, the Martyrdom of San Sebastian by Benozzo Gozzoli and the Annunciation by Jacopo della Quercia, are behind the facade.

The Collegiata di Santa Maria Assunta

The Collegiata di Santa Maria Assunta (Collegiate Church of the Assumption of Mary), the Duomo, was built between the11th and the 12th century XII. In Romanesque style, has a sober facade with two portals and a richly frescoed Interior divided into one nave and two aisles.

What to do in San Gimignano Duomo Collegiata di Santa Maria Assunta
Duomo di Santa Maria Assunta

Cappella di Santa Fina

Don’t miss the Cappella di Santa Fina! Created in 1468 from the design by Giuliano and Benedetto da Maiano this is a true masterwork of the Renaissance. Situated at the end of the right nave, the chapel is famous for its frescoes, about the life of Santa Fina, made by Ghirlandaio in 1475. Pay also attention to the altar inside the chapel: this piece of art by Benedetto da Maiano is not only an altar, but also the tomb of Santa Fina.

San Gimignano - Cappella di Santa Fina - Ghirlandaio - The Funeral of Santa Fina
Cappella di Santa Fina – Ghirlandaio – The Funeral of Santa Fina

Palazzo del Podestà

Located in front of the Duomo, the Palazzo del Podestà was built in 1249 and enlarged in 1337. One of its main characteristic is the huge entrance called Loggia; inside we can admire a fresco, Madonna col Bambino, angeli e santi, painted in 1513 by Sodoma. San Gimignano is the town of the tower, a medieval New York, and here there is one of the most imposing with its height of 52 metres (170 feet), the Torre Rognosa. On the left you can see the Torre Chigi, and the Torri Salvucci, the twin towers of San Gimignano. Behind these towers, there is the smaller Torre Pettini.

San Gimignato Salvucci towers and Palazzo del Podestà
Salvucci towers (on the left) and the Palazzo del Podestà (on the right) (Photo by Vitbaisa / CC BY)

Palazzo del Popolo

Located in piazza del Duomo, Palazzo del Popolo is the current Town Hall. The building houses the Civic Museum and on its right stands the Torre Grossa. Built in 1288 and enlarged in 1323, the palace became the town hall in 1337. The building is characterized by a faced half in stone and half in bricks with large windows and a battlements added in 19th century. Inside there is a beautiful courtyard with many frescoes by Sodoma; from here, a stair lead us to the Museo Civico.

Visit- San Gimignano Palazzo del popolo Torre Grossa Duomo
Palazzo del popolo, Torre Grossa and Duomo (Photo by Francesco Gasparetti / CC BY)

Museo Civico di San Gimignano

The Palazzo del Popolo, also known as Palazzo Comunale, is the historic house of the civic museums of San Gimignano. The Museo Civico is located inside the higher floors of the palace. In the second floor there is the Sala del Consiglio. This hall is also called “Sala Dante” in memory of the visit from the “Supreme Poet” in 1299. Here we can admire an important cycle of 13th century frescoes attributed to Azzo di Masetto and most of all the Maestà by Lippo Memmi (1317). Another hall full of frescoes is located inside the third floor: the Camera del Podestà; here there is a cycle of frescoes, about love and moral qualities, attributed to Memmo di Filippuccio.

Proceed now with the pinacoteca, still inside the third floor, that exposes art works from tuscan artists, most of all from Florence and Siena, created between 13th and 16th centuries. Amog the most important works there are the wooden Crucifix by Coppo di Marcovaldo, the Madonna and Child with angels and saints by Benozzo Gozzoli, the Angel and the Virgin Annunciated by Filippino Lippi and the Assunta with saints Gregorio and Benedetto painted in 1511 by Pinturicchio.

San Gimignano - Museo Civico - Pinturicchio
Pinturicchio – Assunta with saints Gregorio and Benedetto

Torre Grossa

The museum ends with the visit to the Torre Grossa. From here you can enjoy an amazing view!

Opening hours:
April – September: 10.00-19.30
October – March: 11.00-17.30
1st of January: 12.30-17.30
Closed on 25th of December

San Gimignano Palazzo Comunale courtyard
The courtyard of Palazzo Comunale

Museo San Gimignano 1300

The museum San Gimignano 1300 exposes some scale models that illustrate woh was San Gimignano during the Middle Ages. The most interesting one is that one that recreate the entire town (scale 1:100) from the year 1300. The museum is in via Costarella, a road that ends in Piazza del Duomo passing under the Torre Grossa.

Address: via Costarella 3

Opening Hours:
May – November: 10.00-18.00
December – April: 10.00-17.00

Tickets: regular 5 euro; reduced 3 euro

San Gimignano 1300
San Gimignano 1300 (Photo by Fracund / CC BY)

Rocca di Montestaffoli

Built in 14th century behind the Duomo, the Rocca di Montestaffoli, was a fortress that today has only the perimetral walls and it has been converted into a park. Here you can relax far from the hordes of tourists. Another reason to visit this fort is the very nice panoramic view you can enjoy from its bulwarks!

From Piazza del Duomo, now take via San Martino, behind the Torri dei Salvucci, and walk in direction of via Folgore where is the former Conservatorio di Santa Fina, where there are three museums waiting for you!

Museo Archeologico

The Museo Archeologico exposes Etruscan, Roman and medieval findings. The museum is organized in two sections: the first one dedicate to the classical archaeology and the second one focused on the artigianal production in the medieval San Gimignano.

Address: Via Folgore 11

Openng Hours:
April – September: 10.00-19.30
October – March: 11.00-17.30
1st of January: 12.30-17.30
Closed on 25th of December

Galleria d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea “Raffaele De Grada”

The Galleria d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea of San Gimignano is dedicated to the painter  Raffaele De Grada. Inside the museum there are many worksmade by Raffaele De Grada and by other artists as Renato Guttuso, Ugo Nespolo and Niccolò Cannicci.

Address: Via Folgore 11

Openng Hours:
April – September: 10.00-19.30
October – March: 11.00-17.30
1st of January: 12.30-17.30
Closed on 25th of December

Spezieria di Santa Fina

The spezieria was both a workshop that a laboratory, where were created the medicines used in the Hospital of Santa Fina. Today this place is a museum where we can see how was organized this ancient farmacy, with all its products and its fine ceramic pharmacy jars.

Address: Via Folgore 11

Openng Hours:
April – September: 10.00-19.30
October – March: 11.00-17.30
1st of January: 12.30-17.30
Closed on 25th of December

Chiesa di Sant’Agostino

In the northern area of the city centre, there is the convent and the church of chiesa di Sant’Agostino. This romanesque-gothic church preserves many interesting art works. Behind the facade, the Cappella di San Bartolo has an altar made by Benedetto ad Maiano; the vault is a work of Sebastiano Mainardi while the floor is done with majolica tiles by Andrea della Robbia. Along the right side there are some altars with works of Pier Francesco Fiorentino, Bartolo di Fredi, Vincenzo Tamagni and Piero del Pollaiolo. The left side has frescoes by Sebastiano Mainardi, Lippo Memmi, Benozzo Gozzoli and Vincenzo Tamagni. But… the best is yet to come!

San Gimignano Chiesa di Sant'Agostino
Chiesa di Sant’Agostino a San Gimignano (Photo by Itto Ogami / CC BY)

On the main altar, there is thePiero del Pollaiolo‘s Coronation of the Virgin, Saints and Angels (1483). Behind there are three chaples: the central one is frescoed with the Stories from the life of sant’Agostino by Benozzo Gozzoli (1464-1465); the right one with Life of the Virgin by Bartolo di Fredi (1374-1375); the left one preserves a Pietà.

Where to go in the surroundings of San Gimignano

The province of Siena and in particular the Val d’Elsa are full of very interesting historic hamlets, the closest to San Gimignano are Certaldo, Poggibonsi, Colle di Val d’Elsa and Monteriggioni; finally, in the northern part of the valley, San Miniato is also worth a visit.

How to get to San Gimignano

By train: the closest train station is in Poggibonsi, from there you have to take a bus

By bus: from Siena line 130 by Siena Mobiità
From Firenze line 131 till Poggibonsi, then line 130 till San Gimignano

By car: from Florence and Siena take the Raccordo Autostradale Firenze-Siena till the exit Poggibonsi Nord then follow for Gimignano (on SR429 and SP127).

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