San Gimignano

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 Alighieriimage (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.

The locals were characteristically vociferous. image

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!


About Cheri

Writer, photograph, artist, mother, grandmother and wife.
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17 Responses to San Gimignano

  1. Christopher says:

    “……….We head to a small town, Buonconvento, where we will be discussing Albert Camus’ work The Plague, the Stranger, and the Myth of Sisyphus…….”

    Compared to going somewhere far in order to discuss Nietzsche (as you did in 2009), going somewhere far to discuss Camus will, I feel, be as bracing as a cold shower on a winter’s morning…………

  2. shoreacres says:

    The town is beautiful — and didn’t I laugh at the competitive building that went on. What goes around comes around, as we say here. I like the gentleman on the cell phone, too.

    I suspect you don’t know that the title for my blog came from the first poem I wrote. It included the phrase, “the Sisyphean poet.” I need to drag it out and post it again for the people who werent around that first year or two, and don’t know the backstory.

    You look good in that fountain. 😉

    • Cheri says:

      Yes, Linda, please repost.
      That cistern had throngs of people around it every time we passed that piazza. At 9:00 am, we were able to snap a photo sans bodies!

  3. Brighid says:

    Thanks for taking me along in pics. Beautiful area.
    I have questions, if you don’t mind: Are the streets that clean? Is that an outdoor mirror behind the Locals? Are you that petite?

    • Cheri says:

      Thanks. I did not include my laptop on the trip so posting is not as easy. I reread and see errors.

      The streets are as clean as you see them in the pictures.
      Great eye, Brighid! That mirror was in a small alcove on the street.
      I am 5’2″ and about 100 lbs but now that I look at that photo again, it makes me laugh. It looks as though I am 3 feet tall.

  4. Great bite of Italian history Cheri. The gentleman second from the left looks much like someone we know well, only how did he get over there without me?

  5. Richard says:

    From a distance, the towers make the town look like a modern city’s skyscrapers on a hill, as is very apparent from where we ate lunch – I think it was in the white building you see in the centre of the fourth picture down. Glenys bought a small oil painting of a similar view as we browsed through the little shops on the way down to the town gate. We also climbed up to where you took that picture from.

    Your photography captures the atmosphere perfectly.

    Our visit was very short, though, and you were sensible to stay overnight. We must have been in a horde, although I didn’t really notice.

    I think I’ll build a tower to keep up with the Joneses next door.

    I could have got it all wrong. It might have been another place altogether. It was a flying visit, after all. Young men see visions. Old men dream dreams.

    You’ve caught the sun!

    • Richard says:

      Sorry! Third picture down.

    • Cheri says:

      We have left Buonconvento and are here in the tiny town of Montefollonico, where we traveled in 1999. The Internet is sporadic so I may not be posting as often as I thought I would.

      Few tourists here! Still processing all that was discussed in the Camus seminar. It was excellent and yes, no rain. So fortunate.

  6. Christopher says:

    “………Dante Alighieri…….was a Guelph politician…….”

    When I saw “Guelph politician” I immediately thought of another Guelph “politician” – John Kenneth Galbraith, whose name will always be associated with Guelph, Ontario, from whose university Galbraith famously graduated.

    John Kenneth Galbraith shaped the way I look on the world as much as Dante Alighieri may have shaped the way others looked on the world.

    i emerged from reading Galbraith’s “The Affluent Society” a different person from when I began it, in the way, I suppose, that many readers of Dante’s “The Divine Comedy” emerged as different people from when they began it.

    Although an economist, Galbraith had an inimitable way with words, and was such wonderful writer of English prose, that one reads him for his literary style, and for his Wildeian wit and irony, as much as for what he wrote about, whether economics, politics, history, his memoirs, or anything else.

    It would appear that I’m recommending him to you!!

    • Cheri says:

      Thank you for this. I find it all very interesting. Now that I have no “homework,” I just might pick Galbraith’s book up! God knows I can use more knowledge about economics.

  7. Muni says:

    Thanks Cheri, Sounds like a great trip! Ciao, Muni >

  8. dafna says:

    will you have a chance to meet Giovanni? Have a pleasant trip, thanks for sharing.

    • Cheri says:

      Hello dafna!
      Always wonderful to see your words and face. I have lost contact with Giovanni and, we will not be traveling to Rome. Our last stop is Florence. Heading there tomorrow. I will miss the pastoral setting here in Val d’Orcia.

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