"Discovering the Town"

last modified Dec 09, 2013 10:03


If a traveller coming in...

If a traveller coming in San Gimignano wonders what he is going to visit, he should try and figure out what place is this, still surrounded by its walls; characterized by its towers known all around the world; cut in two by the main street that was named Via Francigena which was one of the most important street of Christianity. A town nestled in the middle of one of the most beautiful Italian countryside between the lands of the fleur de lis and Siena, but also the centre of the historical and cultural area Val d'Elsa, which had and still has its peculiarities.

The visitor coming into San Gimignano that would hastily judge it by the number of tourists walking the old Strata Francigena would be in mistake thinking this land lives mainly on tourism.
The economy of San Gimignano is primarily based on the factories in the valley, unnoticed by the visitor who crossed it maybe without even paying attention to the land around, uncomparable to the one on the hill where the the tips of the towers are already in view.
Agriculture is another very important activity in the economy of San Gimignano, mainly represented by the specialized production of excellent wines: Vernaccia - the first Italian wine to obtain the title of Denomination of Controlled Origin (DOC) in 1966 and then in 1993 it obtained the title of Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin (DOCG) - but also the San Gimignano red wine which is conquering its space among the best italian wines.

Amongst the typical agricultural products of this country is saffron, protected by the certification of Protected Designation of Origin (PDO)  since 2005.

Saffron is obtained by the roasting of the floral stigmas of Crocus Sativus; the plant originally came from Persia had flourished centuries ago on the hills of San Gimignano. In the thirteenth century the local producers sold it on various Italian markets and exported it to Egypt, Tunisia, Syria and the Holy Land.

Saffron was used as a medicinal plant in pharmacopoeia and as dyeing plant, it has been used in cooking since the thirteenth century, as it is written in a document dated 1228 where it is a seasoning for the meat consumed by the podesta and his soldiers. [non è errato tradurre podestà con “mayor”, ma solo se si parla di periodo fascita, nel medioevo era una carica esistente solo in Italia e quindi non ha traduzione in inglese]
Saffron was considered a precious spice and it was protected by the law against adulteration and it was used as money to pay soldiers, as loan payment by the municipality or to pay tribute to emperors (Federico II) and Kings (Charles and Robert of Anjou). The Bishop of Volterra used it to bribe the prelates of the Roman Curia, but that's another story.

In the last decades, saffron has returned to flourish in the shadow of the towers thanks to a local association that involves the University of Florence and the Tuscany Region. Nowadays, Saffron represents 5% of the local products known by tourists and sold in San Gimignano, 4% of which is purchased by tourists, interestingly: they are all Italian. Foreigners continue to ignore this spice that is now used almost exclusively in cooking.

The third most important activity is tourism, it is the third, but with a large importance. San Gimignano did not know mass tourism until the end of the seventies. Nowadays it is estimated that more than two and a half million people visit San Gimignano per year; in the ranking of best known places of Tuscany, San Gimignano is third ex aequo with Pisa, after Florence which is the first, and Siena, the second.

If a traveller comes in San Gimignano, he might think of the town only as a touristic place; but this small town of less than five square kilometers of historic centre and  a little more than 7,000 inhabitants offers:

  • Museums open all day and galleries of modern and contemporary art;
  • A theater with a rich musical season in summer and a rich theatrical season in winter;
  • A library of over 100,000 volumes;
  • Numerous shopping centers and cultural associations;
  • Two schools of music;
  • A dance school;
  • A band and a choir.

The curious tourist should realize that San Gimignano hosts contemporary art exhibitions and has been chosen as the site of a Master's degree by the University of Siena.

If a tourist asks himself what he is going to visit in San Gimignano, perhaps now he would have a clearer idea. The tourist is going to visit a land that lives within the dynamic processes of contemporary forms, striving to bring together its old soul with its modernity. The town is characterized by a powerful historical and cultural memory stratified over the centuries we can breathe and feel. The traveler should be sensitive enough to understand this atmosphere and breathe it.

What the tourist will receive in return will probably be hard to forget.

« June 2021 »