San Gimignano also named the Manhattan of the Middle Age is a must-see for almost all visitors that are traveling in Tuscany. That’s why a self-guided tour to discover a few unusual things to do in San Gimignano is the best solution to step out of the crowd and enjoy the beauties of this amazing village.
Recently, we took part in a special initiative called #unconventionalsangi organized by the cultural association CCN of San Gimignano together with Tina, an authentic local, representing the project on Instagram #Shareyoursangi. What we are telling you in this article is the nice walking tour of the town we experienced.
An expert tour guide called Catia led our group along a less touristic path of San Gimignano. She enriched the experience with interesting stories about the development of the village, stage of the pilgrim route Via Francigena since the time of the Middle Age. This was a great opportunity to discover some of the unusual things to do in San Gimignano.
The map of this Unconventional tour of San Gimignano
You can walk this itinerary on your own, even without a tour guide, following the stages shown in the map below. Take note of the itinerary. It’s a great alternative to the common routes especially during spring and summer when the village is packed with tourists.
Unusual Things to do in San Gimignano
1. Porta San Giovanni
The tour starts from the southern gate of Porta San Giovanni, the most important gate of the town. This was the access for people coming from Siena along the Via Francigena. At its sides, the naves of the church of the Madonna dei Lumi stood since the 1900s when were destroyed. Today, you can still admire the bell tower.
2. Chiesa di San Francesco
Walking on the central Via San Giovanni, stop in front of the Romanesque façade of the church of San Francesco. In origin, it was a retreat for the catholic military order entitled to San Giovanni. Then during the 1500s, after a period of decadence, the retreat was assigned to the Franciscan monks that changed the name to St Francis church.
3. San Gimignano 1300 Museum
Keep walking on the main street, on the right, you will find the Cugnanesi Tower. Slow down to admire the first tower ever built in the village. Turning left, a few steps away, stop at the amazing Museum of San Gimignano 1300. Inside, a faithful handmade reproduction of how the city was in 1300 left me breathless. The narrow streets, the seventy-two towers, the fortified walls, and Palazzi. That is really awesome. And free of charge.
4. Via degli Innocenti and Santa Fina’s house
From the museum, walking along a typical medieval alley, reach the panoramic lookout at Via degli Innocenti. It is a must-see when you come to San Gimignano, where the view of the surrounding is wonderful. It is like staring at an impressionist colored painting: the green of the hills, the blue of the sky, and the brown of old roofs. Turning to the right we descended a little passageway where the Santa Fina house is. Today there is only a porcelain tablet to reveal the house, but it’s the story of this woman that deserves to be told.
The magical story of Santa Fina
Little Fina born in 1238. She was only 10 when she gets critically ill and paralyzed. Being poor, she only asked for a wooden table in a tuff cavern where to spend the rest of her life. In honor of Jesus, she was calmly accepting the pain of the illness.
She died five years later, the 12 March 1243. When the body was taken away from the cavern, people saw little unexpected yellow violets on the wooden table. And they smelt a scent of fresh flowers in the air. Moreover, yellow violets grew along the fortified walls of the village.
Today, flowers still grow and they took the name of Violets of Santa Fina. A legend says that before the burial, Fina’s nurse, the last person to see her body, recovered the use of her ill hand. In addition, other miracles happened to the infirm that visited the grave. In 1479, the inhabitants evoked the Saint to help them to defeat the plague and the disaster immediately stop.
Being an important figure in the history of San Gimignano, every 12 March, the village celebrates the anniversary of the death of Santa Fina.
5. Via Santo Stefano
The unusual tour of San Gimignano continues walking down the arch of Via Piandornella up to the corner with Via Santo Stefano. Here a typical Tuscan building with a charming garden of roses for sure will fill your eyes. Once passed the ex-prison, descend the pedestrian path up to the old gate of Porta delle Fonti.
6. Porta delle Fonti and the Medieval Springs
Porta delle Fonti was an old gate to guard both the entrance to the village and the medieval public springs, which are just out of the walls. The suggestive fountains have ten arches, of which six are Romanesque style and four gothic. In the past, the women of the village came here to do the laundry, and children filled buckets of fresh drinking water for the family.
7. Chiesa di San Jacopo al Tempio
From the old gate, a dirt track climbs the hill up to the church of San Jacopo al Tempio. This was the most ancient Templar church of San Gimignano. Its origins date back to 1100 when Templar knights used to find retreat here. The façade is made half of travertine and half of bricks. Beside the pinnacle, thirteen colored ceramic tablets, originating from the Maghreb in northern Africa, adorn the entrance.
8. Piazza Sant’Agostino
The last stop is in the wide and calm Piazza Sant’ Agostino. Right in the middle stands an old well made in stone bricks. Wander around the square, and take a look inside the small church of San Pietro. But mostly, get into the impressive church of Sant’Agostino to admire frescoes and the garden inside the monk’s cloister. End your walk taking a sit to enjoy a traditional Tuscan Merenda and make a toast with a glass of Vernaccia wine.
Visiting the so called Manhattan of Tuscany, you may look for information about how to reach San Gimignano from Florence. We collected everything you need in the following link:
Instead, if you don’t have enough time to spend a few days in town, you can consider joining a guided tour from Florence which also include a stop in Siena and Monteriggioni.
Do not forget to post your pictures from San Gimignano on Instagram using these hashtags: #mytravelintuscany #shareyoursangi #unconventionalsangi. This is our Instagram profile to look at our beautiful gallery of Tuscan pictures.
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