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 Some information about San Gimignano 

San Gimignano


As for the birth of the city, since its origins, we have no certain testimony. Two are the most reliable. The first dates back to the sixth century B.C., when the Etruscans from Volterra, in search of new lands to live and cultivate, settled in the Val d'Elsa and settled here, in the centre of the present town, building a new village called SILVAN, in honour of their god of the woods. In fact, numerous remains and tombs testify to the presence of the Etruscans in our land. The second is a legend that tells the story of Silvio, a young Roman who, after the conspiracy of Catilina, fled from Rome and arrived in the Val d'Elsa, so pleased by its beauty that he decided to live there and build a village, which he called SILVA or SELVA.
SILVAN, SILVA or SELVA remained the name of the town until the fourth century AD, when King Totila brought destruction and death wherever he went. The people, frightened by him, built a church, probably on the site of the present Cathedral, in honour of San Geminiano, Bishop of Modena in the fourth century, who miraculously saved his city from the invasions of the Goths.

To feel even more protected, people began to build their houses around the church. As time went by, The inhabitants no longer wanted to call their village Silva, but SAN GEMINIANO, which, with the arrival of the Longobards in Tuscany, became SAN GIMIGNANO. The period of maximum splendour of San Gimignano was around the twelfth - thirteenth century, when it was a great centre of agricultural market and were built the most important buildings of the town, including the tower houses of the nobles who could count 72 against the 14 remaining today.


Via SAN GIOVANNI begins at the homonymous gate, built on the last wall protecting the city from this side. The gate, made entirely of stone, was built and inaugurated in 1262 and shortly afterwards was surmounted by the so-called CASTELLACCIA, made of bricks with coats of arms and six trifoliate arches supported by corbels, which were used to guard the night watchmen. On the upper left, we can also see a bell tower belonging to the 17th century church known as the CHIESA DELLA MADONNA DEI LUMI, in Baroque style, whose nave was above the Porta San Giovanni, later demolished at the end of the 19th century. Inside the Porta, some fragments of a fresco depicting the Madonna and the two aisles can still be seen. Passing through the Porta, we arrive to Via San Giovanni, where, walking towards the square, we can admire many medieval palaces, each with its own style.

Further on, on the right, we can see the TABERNACOLO DI SEBASTIANO MAINARDI, depicting the Madonna with Child, a 15th century painter from San Gimignano, a pupil of the school of Domenico Ghirlandaio. Fifty metres from the Tabernacle, on the same side, is the CHIESA ROMANICA DI SAN FRANCESCO, of which only the façade remains, all in black and white stone, with blind arches in the Pisan style and long columns with sculpted capitals in the French style. Above the central door is carved the cross of the Hierosolimitans, a knightly order founded to defend the Holy Sepulchre and later transformed into an organisation to help travellers and pilgrims. Further up the road is the PALAZZO PRATELLESI, housed in a convent dedicated to St Catherine. It is a very elegant palace with Gothic mullioned windows and three small triple arches surmounted by terracotta arches. We can also admire the splendid Palazzo turrito Campatelli.
Climbing further, we reach the end of the splendid street with the ARCO DE' BECCI E CUGNANESI, flanked by two 13th century towers, one on the right and the other on the left. This is part of the first circle of walls built for defensive purposes.


Via San Matteo, the second main street of the town, together with Via San Giovanni, is considered the most noble for the number of medieval buildings. Going down from Piazza del Duomo, on the left we can see the TORRI GEMELLE of the Salvucci family in all their splendour, while on the right we can see the TORRE PETTINI.
Continuing, we pass by the ARCO DELLA CANCELLERIA, built in stone, the southern exit of the city, which was part of the first circle of walls, and next to it the PALAZZO DELLA CANCELLERIA, built in the 14th century, with three arched doors and two mullioned windows surmounted by trilobite arches and a beautiful single lancet window on the first floor. Next to this building is the CHIESA DI SANTO BARTOLO dedicated to a local saint who cared for lepers. Dating from 1173, the church has a brick façade with blind arches on two floors, five on each floor, in the 13th century Romanesque style. There is also a French influence, as in the church of San Francesco. On the lintel of the central door is the cross of the Order of the Temple in travertine. The interior is bare, but we can still see the Romanesque architecture with a single nave. Continuing along via San Matteo, on the same side as the church of Santo Bartolo, we arrove to the PALAZZO NOMI PESCIOLINI, a beautiful Florentine building from the end of the 13th century, where we can see two very different styles: at the base, a large sandstone structure, and at the top, built with terracotta bricks and two floors of mullioned windows with two lights.
Before we reach the end of the street, we can see other palaces, including PALAZZO BACCINELLI, PALAZZO FRANCARDELLI, PALAZZO TINACCI, PALAZZO VICHI and PALAZZO MAINARDI. The street ends with the beautiful PORTA SAN MATTEO, part of the second town wall, dating back to 1262, built with large blocks of Sienese stone. If you look at the gate from the outside, you will notice that it is made up of two arches: one pointed and the other with a lowered arch.

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