Montepulciano and San Gimignano

Siena is a charming city of ancient origins and still cherishes inestimable cultural beauties dating back to the Middle Ages. The small and charming villages of its hinterland abound in interesting finds and cultural evidences. The glorious countryside of central Tuscany, which is characterized by cypresses, olive trees and vineyards, cherishes the ancient villages of Montepulciano and San Gimignano.

montepulcinao1_siena.jpgMontepulciano sits on a high limestone ridge overlooking Chiana Valley. It is situated 605 metres above sea level and is enclosed by impressive walls and defensive works dating back to 1511. The streets of its city centre are flanked by outstanding Renaissance palaces and churches. A thriving town dealing with farming, trade and industry, Montepulciano is also rich in interesting Renaissance monuments and is famous all over the world for its “Vino Nobile” wine.

A city of Etruscan origins, in 715 it was called Castello Politiano; in the XIII century, it underwent Florentine domination and was subsequently taken over by Siena. Once reconquered by the Grand Duchy of Florence, in 1561 it became a free city-republic and achieved utmost splendour as a Bishop See.
Montepulciano has been an important cultural centre of the western Chiana Valley for many centuries and once played a fundamental role since it was situated at the crossroads of two important regional routes and in a strategic position bordering the most powerful city potentates of the late Middle Ages.

The city, where both Poliziano and St. Roberto Bellarmino were born, abounds in outstanding masterpieces by acclaimed architects, painters and sculptors, such as Antonio da San Gallo, Michelozzo, Jacopo da Vignola, Ippolito Scalza and Baldassarre Peruzzi. It was called "the pearl of ‘500" for the eminent personalities who worked here and the beautiful civic and religious buildings it hosted.

Walking down the main avenue, which is flanked by numerous Renaissance buildings which give the city utmost elegance and fascination, tourists will reach Pulcinella Tower and the wonderful Piazza Grande, which is the city's main gathering place and gazes across it from on high. Here are Palazzo Contucci (1519) and Palazzo Tarugi, which were both erected by Antonio Sangallo the Elder, and the Duomo (XVI-XVII), which was designed by Ippolito Scalza and is provided with an unfinished facade which lacks the marble covering. The interior of the Duomo cherishes outstanding sculptures by Michelozzo and a precious triptych by Taddeo Bartolo.

The same square also hosts the embattled and towered Palazzo Civico (XIX-century), which is similar to the Florentine Palazzo della Signoria and includes an inner courtyard provided with double portico, and the fourteenth-century Palazzo della Pretura.
Outside the city walls, just in the heart of a charming valley featuring enchanting natural settings, is one of the most harmonious masterpieces by Antonio da Sangallo the Elder: the Church of St. Biagio (1545), whose exterior was largerly built of golden travertine.

Today Montepulciano is a renowned spa resort, the seat of the famous spa establishments of St. Albino, which exploit the curative properties carried out by thermal waters and mud baths, while"Vino Nobile" wine of Montepulciano is one of the most appreciated Tuscan wines worldwide.
Tourism is also boosted by the numerous cultural and artistic beauties the city cherishes, its traditional folk events and the food and wine festivals which take place here all the year long. Not to be missed are: Cantine Aperte (Open Cellars) (May),  Bravìo delle Botti (Bravio of the Barrels) (August) and the Fair of the Arts and Antiques (December-January).

sangimignano_siena.jpgSan Gimignano is a charming village which still retains its ancient origins, medieval appeal and town layout. Situated on the top of a gentle hill rising north of Siena, it dominates Elsa Valley with its towers, which were once the symbol of the power of both aristocratic and merchant families and today give the city utmost beauty and fascination.

The main attractions the city boasts are breathtaking views and charming narrow streets which abound in workshops, ateliers and galleries of contemporary art.

Both the sepulchre of Cellole and the archaeological finds of Cisterna bear witness to the ancient Etruscan origins of the city. The original settlement of the town, which was surrounded by impressive walls and dated back to the VIII-IX century, was subsequently turned into a Feudal castle. When the Feudal lord died, he left it to the bishop, but the population rebelled against him and founded a free city-republic. However, it could not resist the hegemonic goals of Florence, whose influence deeply affected the small village.

In 1354, after it had achieved utmost splendour, San Gimignano was taken over by Florence. The plague of 1348 led to the diversion of the traditional pilgrim route and the subsequent economic decline after a period of utmost splendour, when San Gimignano was situated in a privileged position along the via Francigena.
The wonderful masterpieces which embellish churches and palaces bear witness to that thriving historic period and, together with shops, restaurants, workshops and holiday farms, helped the city regain its past fascination.

San Gimignano is currently listed among UNESCO World Heritege Sites and is famous all over the world for its towers: due to wars, catastrophes and urban renewal, the city has managed to retain only thirteen out of the original seventy-six towers (the most ancient of which dated back to the XIII century). Dante Alighieri himself pointed out the presence of more than seventy towers which beared witness to the economic prosperity of local merchants. At that time, a law forbade the demolition of the towers, which was only allowed in case those were replaced by even more beautiful fortresses.

The outstanding artistic heritage San Gimignano cherishes also includes wonderful historic buildings, staircases, small churches, palaces and inestimable works of art by Lippo Memmi, Filippino Lippi, Coppo di Marcovaldo, Benozzo Gozzoli, Pinturicchio, Taddeo di Bartolo, Giuliano and Benedetto da Maiano, Antonio del Pollaiolo and Domenico Ghirlandaio.

Not to be missed are the Romanesque Duomo, whose interior is decorated with outstanding frescos realized by the school of Siena in 1400, the beautiful Piazza della Cisterna, which is surrounded by XIII- and XIV-century buildings, Palazzo del Podestà, which provides support to the first tower of San Gimignano, Rognosa Tower, the two Salvucci Towers, which were built by the Salvucci family to circumvent the prohibition to built towers which were higher than the one of the Podestà, the panoramic Fortress of Montestaffoli, which today hosts a public park and a small tower boasting an outstanding view over the surrounding towers and countryside, the Town Hall, with its Art Gallery and the so-called Torre Grossa (Big Tower), the Archaeological Museum, the Apothecary's shop of Saint Fina and the Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art “Raffaele De Grada”.

A privileged holiday destination for the numerous monuments and masterpieces it hosts, San Gimignano is also famous for its “Vernaccia” wine, one of the finest white wines in Italy, which has been produced in the nearby countryside since 1200. Another renowned local product is “Saffron”, which has been very important for the local economy since the Middle Ages.

Among the most important events the city hosts is the so-called “Ferie delle messi”(Holidays of the harvest), an historic recollection which gives the streets of the city outstanding past fascination.