by cheri sabraw
Originally an Etruscan town, San Gimignano, about an hour from Florence in the stunning hill country of Tuscany, is known for its many towers, most of which originate from the 12th and 13th centuries. There are twelve still standing but at one time, more than 70 towers reached for the sky in a competitive drive for status. This frenzied “my tower is better than your tower” activity reached its peak during the Florentine power struggle between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines. You may remember that Dante Alighieri (The Divine Comedy ) was a Guelph politician from Florence before he was exiled. On May 8, 1300, Dante traveled to San Gimignano to make a speech.
I must admit that I knew nothing of San Gimignano’s history, save that E.M. Forster’s Where Angels Fear to Tread (1991) was filmed in there.
San Gimignano can be seen in one day and as the guide books advised, we stayed over the night to experience the medieval alleys and stonework and the quiet rolling vistas, dotted with wine grapes ( Vernaccia di San Gimignano) and olive orchards, after the hordes of tourists left around 5 pm.
Before the tourists filled the tiny streets like locusts, we arose early to take a picture of the old cistern in the center of the the town–the Piazza della Cisterna. This well, as you can imagine integral to a medieval city, was built in 1237 and rebuilt in 1346. It is an octagonal travertine structure, now filled with coins.
We head to a small town, Buonconvento, where we will be discussing Albert Camus’ work The Plague, the Stranger, and the Myth of Sisyphus.
Oh, and speaking of the plague, it hit San Gimignano ( and most of Europe) in 1348, wiping out half of the city’s population.
Good-bye to San Gimignano!