My Italian Adventure
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CHAPTER 50 LOCATION: S. Gimignano SUBJECT: The Spell of San Gimignano
 

Feeling Better
By the time I reached the piazza in the town center, I was fine. When will I learn not to read on the bus?

A Quaint Courtyard
Bells, lamps, odd-shaped windows, arching doorways, textured hand built stone walls: the charm of this town is in its many details.

Faux Window Symmetry
Some of the windows on this building are real, three are cleverly painted fakes.

Needing 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. The "mysterious" 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 flourished.

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.

San Gimignano Scenes
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 torture implements.

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.

Next: Medieval Manhattan

 
 
 
 
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