Day in San Gimignano, Tuscany Review – Soaking Up a Medieval Rest Stop

 

You may hear, as we did, that picturesque San Gimignano, Tuscany is overrun with tourists. 

 

 

Fluke, luck, or whatever—our day in San Gimignano proved to be one of the most relaxed places to savor artistic works by several well-known medieval masters of religious art, take in breathtaking panoramic views of the countryside, and sit on a bench to do local people watching while we tried to make our gelato last as long as possible. 

 

 

This was approximately a week after Easter and before the May start of what most consider Italy tourism’s high season.

 

 

Yes, San Gimignano shops seem totally tourist-oriented, many verging on lack of authenticity of place. 

 

 

Yes, we were not the only ones in the museums.  That said, we never had to fight the crowds as we did in Florence, for example, to study the art before us.  Nor did we have to jostle our way through tourist throngs in the street.  This was a very relaxed place to be.

 

San Gimignano is first and foremost picturesque.  While its origins date back to Etruscan times, the city you see before you is from the Middle Ages. 

 

 

It is a striking skyline-- you can see the medieval towers of the town as you drive up the hill to its borders.  You read that at one time there was competition among the inhabitants to build higher and higher towers, probably not just as status symbols but also to get extra security from having the ability to fend off intruders from up on high.

 

There are several museums and sites to take in.  Our schedule allowed an in-depth visit to San Gimignano’s Civic Museum and related Archeological Museum with a restored pharmacy as well as a collection of contemporary art. 

 

 

All of this, by the way, is with one museum entrance ticket.

 

 

Ironically, as you walk through the circa 12th Century Palazza Civico that houses the Civic Museum, climbing uneven stone steps that remind you of medieval times, you now can use one of the most high tech museum AV guides that we have ever seen. 

 

 

This is a 3D art glass experiment in Italy.  You put on eyeglasses of sorts and headphones and as you approach the various frescoes sensors start an holographic-seeming video starring tour guides in medieval garb that give you background on where you are, what you are looking at and special features of the frescoes to notice.  Currently it is only available in English and Italian. 

 

 

 

At times we were technically challenged by the apparatus but this was more than compensated for by the super-helpful and friendly museum staff who were poised to notice if anyone had questions—technology or otherwise.  This above and beyond friendliness and helpfulness was also true of the Archeological Museum too.  Being a standout for warmth in Italy is no small accolade.  Kudos to the museum administration for building such a tourist-friendly staff.

 

  

 

San Gimignano was a way station stop for many traveling to Rome.  That’s one reason why it had so many hospitals.   Granted, the art treasures by Lippi, Taddeo di Bartolo and similar are likely the biggest draw to San Gimignano for most—and especially if you too luck out and have thin crowds of fellow tourists to contend with as we did. 

 

 

But don’t miss the restored pharmacy in the Archeology Museum annex.   

 

 

 

This was the pharmacy for the eight hospitals in this small city and wayfarers stop. 

 

 

You’ll get to see pharmacopeia books from that time and the apparatus and kitchens in which pharmaceuticals were prepared.  

 

 

The helpful guides told us that plans are in the works to restore the medicinal gardens in the museum’s yard that borders the city wall. 

 

 

If your Tuscany tour is more leisurely, you could certainly plan three restful days in San Gimignano, a UNESCO world heritage site, and not get the slightest bit bored. 

 

 

For more information on San Gimignano visit the city’s website.

 

 

 

 

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