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Finding Medieval Manhattan in Tuscany

Any itinerary for Tuscany requires a stop in San Gimignano, where a cluster of 14th-century stone towers mimics a big-city skyline, giving the hilltop town the nickname “Medieval Manhattan.” Historic architecture beyond measure, yes—but there is much more to discover.

When in San Gimignano, it’s all about the ice cream. Flavored with the region’s famous saffron, one of the most unique villages becomes memorable when you taste the artisan ice cream. The Crema di Santa Fina creation, made of pine nuts and saffron at Gelateria Dondoli, or Maestro Sergio Dondoli’s Ice Cream Shop, is legendary.

This master uses only local ingredients. Mr. Dondoli has twice won the title of Gelato World Champion and his shop is listed among the top ten gourmet sites in the world. Last, but not least, the great ice cream experience continues for kids and grown-ups with Dondoli Gelato Class. If you dream of becoming a gelatiere, you can easily find all you need about this ancient art in San Gimignano.                           

Refreshed by gelato, visitors are astounded by the tall stone buildings in the center of town that make this one of the most beautiful cities in Italy and a UNESCO heritage site since 1990. Its famous towers were built as lookouts to defend the city for hundreds of years and as symbols of the economic power of the noble families who built them.

Towers of Power

san gimigano

(Photo Credit: Comune di San Gimignano)

By the 14th century, 72 majestic towers spread across San Gimignano, yet only 14 survived. The town’s wealthiest families constructed the towers to compete for prominence and enjoy vertical living spaces that doubled as fortresses to defend against enemies who may approach from the vast surrounding territory— only if they could make it over the village wall. Unstable foundations caused the majority of the towers to crumble over the centuries.

The more prominent the family, the higher their towers soared. In Piazza del Duomo,  where the Cathedral hosts the magnificent frescoes painted by Domenico Ghirlandaio, the Ghibelline  Salvucci’s family made their mark by building the twin towers, defying the prohibition of the Podesta.

The last remaining inhabitable tower in the village is now a hotel. Still standing is also the Torre Grossa, built around 1240 AD. This is the town’s tallest tower. Visitors who climb the 218 steps to the top of this bell tower are rewarded with exquisite views. This, and much more, has made San Gimignano a unique and essential place on your next Tuscan trip. 

The Time Machine

san gimigano

(Photo Credit: Sofia Giuntini)

Strolling through the marvelous streets of the village, you feel transported through time -  surrounded by architecture, artwork and artifacts that reflect daily life in medieval Tuscany. Traveling by foot or horseback on the historic Via Francigena, you can imagine journeying alongside pilgrims who made the famous trek from France to Rome, the seat of the Pope, to ask for forgiveness and graces.

A free municipality since 1200 AD, San Gimignano is a village that hosts a festive summer season and offers excellent food and wine, including gelato, so tourists can enjoy the beautiful landscape and unique traditions. Thanks to a sustainable tourism policy, visitors are encouraged to respect the town’s beauty by honoring the Enjoy and Respect San Gimignano initiative during each visit. #EnjoyandRespectSanGimignano.                   

Barbara Benzoni

 Barbara Benzoni was born in Milan and lives between Rome and Tuscany. She is devoted to USA, the land of courage and innovation. She’s Peter's super-lucky mum and Ale's wife. Cinema, art, good food and only beautiful things are the themes of her existence. With a degree in Italian literature and a Masters in Sports Management she can both enjoys books and basketball matches. In 25 years she has been organizing sport events all over the world and she’s been lucky enough to meet the greatest champs ever. Curiosity in everyday life and people are her drivers. Her personal icon is Mohammed Ali : "It's not bragging if you can back it up".