By the time I reached the piazza in the town center,
I was fine. When will I learn not to read on the bus?
Bells, lamps, odd-shaped windows, arching doorways,
textured hand built stone walls: the charm of this town
is in its many details.
Some of the windows on this building are real,
three are cleverly painted fakes.
a break from Florence, with its crowds and intensity,
I escaped with my new hostel friend, Justine from South Africa,
on a bus to the Tuscan hill town of San Gimignano.
Trying to read my guidebook, while the bus navigated
the twists, turns, rises and falls of the terrain was a mistake.
By the time we disembarked, I was more than a little
queasy. But arriving at a new place was diverting,
and within a short time my stomach had regained its composure.
This area has a long history.
Etruscans had a village on this hill as early as the third
century, B.C. The town of San Gimignano
was established in the 10th century A.D.
Ideally located on trade and pilgrimage routes, the place
However, by the middle of the 13th century,
the Black Death decimated the population, killing
about three quarters of the town's 13,000 inhabitants. The
resulting poverty had at least one positive effect:
with no money to modernize, the medieval character
of the town was splendidly preserved. Later, being
bypassed by more modern roads and rail lines helped to further
limit its growth.
The sweet, small town feel of San Gimignano delights.
Its size invites easy, relaxed exploration (mouse
over small images at left to see larger views).
Motorized traffic was forbidden in the
town center, which contributed to the fairytale feel
of the place. Small enough to be seen in a day, the town still
boasted a number of attractions.
The cathedral featured a Last Judgment
by Taddeo di Bartolo with images of torment that
must be seen to be believed (strictly no photos allowed,
but they did sell postcards). Along those same lines, there's
the Kriminal Museum, which I did not choose to tour, but I'm
told it possesses a most excellent collection of medieval
The town's two art museums are modest in scale
(a refreshing change from the overwhelm of Florence). I enjoyed
the frescos of daily life, including a husband and
wife taking a bath together and getting into
bed. The tiny ornithological museum was a taxidermist's
delight, featuring a great number of stuffed local fauna.
Despite the surge of tourists that swelled into
the main streets with the arrival of every bus, and modern
additions like the convenient ATM machine in the Piazza del
Duomo, the enchanting spell of this fairytale town
could not be broken.