The Teruzzi estate lies at the foot of the San Gimignano hill, closely intertwined with the history, culture and attractions of the area.
Part history, part legend, the foundation of San Gimignano is said to date back to the year 63 before Christ, when Mucius and Silvius, two young patrician brothers who had been accomplices of Catilina’s and had fled Rome, found refuge in the Valdelsa, where they built the castle of Mucchio and that of Silvia, the future San Gimignano.
In the 10th century, with the end of the Early Middle Ages, the most ancient part of the Historical Centre developed. A document of the same period attests to its name; dated 30th August 929, when Hugh of Provence donated a tall hill named after the tower “prope Sancto Geminiano adiacente” (relatively close to Saint Geminianus) to the bishop of Volterra.
The name was probably derived from the Bishop of Modena, and hence is even more legendary, as it would be associated with the appearance of the Saint on the ramparts of the town under siege, saving it from the threat of Totila, at the head of an army of barbarian invaders.
San Gimignano mostly developed in the three centuries following the year 1000. Politically a fief of the bishop of Volterra, who lived in a castle on the Poggio della Torre, in 998 it was still a village exploiting its strategic position near the pilgrimage route from France to Rome, opened by the Longobards and known as the via francigena. The town was delimited by an inner ring of walls and situated on the hillside route of the via francigena, right at the turnoff for the port of Pisa, thus becoming one of the main stopovers for wayfarers.
The town grew enough to become a self-governing commune, or city-state, in 1199. In the age of the medieval communes, San
Gimignano thrived and was at its height. Agricultural produce – especially saffron and Greco and Vernaccia wines – the wool trade and money lending created jobs and attracted people. In the first half of the 14th century, the commune had some 13,000 inhabitants, and a second ring of walls was built to encircle the current Historical Center.
It was during the three centuries of splendor that the towers, San Gimignano’s past and present symbol, were built. Historical reports say that during the 14th century there were as many as 72, one for each rich family in town, symbolizing their wealth and power in the commune. For this reason, albeit tall, they were never allowed to surpass the height of the mayor’s tower, known as the Torre del Podestà or Torre Grossa. Of this Manhattan of the Middle Ages, only 13 towers are left today, some shortened and integrated in the construction of the main buildings in town. The economic, architectural and cultural growth of San Gimignano came to a halt in the mid-14th century – in 1348, the plague killed two thirds of the population and the subjection of the commune to Florence marked the beginning of a long period of decadence. The decline in population, wealth and political independence was the cause of the collapse or shortening of many towers, of the crumbling of many mansions, and the almost complete lack of maintenance and refurbishment of San Giminiano’s architectures and buildings. Paradoxically, this preserved the Historical Center, which survived almost entirely intact through the stylistic influences of the ages preceding the 19th century, when Gothic art was rediscovered and restored. The Middle Ages were back in fashion, many towers and buildings were recovered and repaired and the town was made part of the Grand Tour thanks to Domenico Beccacci: this was a time of rebirth and growth, which with the exponential development of cultural tourism brought millions of tourists – like the pilgrims of old – to the city of towers.
Beyond the towers, a place of rare beauty
Built in 1148, the Collegiate Church, commonly called the Duomo, is an example of monumental architecture, and one of the most prestigious examples of the Tuscan romanesque style. It consists of three naves with frescoes entirely covering the walls, most notably Benozzo Gozzoli’s Saint Sebastian, the cycle on the life of Saint Fina in the Saint’s Chapel by Domenico Ghirlandaio, the Old and New Testament by Bartolo di Fredi and the Memmi workshop and the Last Judgment by Taddeo di Bartolo. Also remarkable are the sculptures by Giuliano and Benedetto da Maiano and Jacopo della Quercia’s Annunciation, carved in wood. The Church of Saint Augustine also contains precious frescoes, in particular the Chapel of Saint Bartolo by Benedetto da Maiano and the Life of Saint Augustine by Benozzo Gozzoli.
Saint John’s gate, the most important and imposing gate in San Gimignano’s walls, was the historical entrance to the town for travelers coming from Siena on the via francigena. In the Commune’s Palace, now the seat of the City Museum and Gallery, visitors can admire the works of artists like Pinturicchio, Benozzo Gozzoli, Filippino Lippi, Domenico di
Michelino and Pier Francesco Fiorentino; from the building one can access the Torre del Podestà, whose 54 meters have always made it the tallest tower in San Gimignano.
A unique place where, in the Historical Centre included by the UNESCO in the World Heritage List, one can appreciate the architecture and town planning of the Middle Ages, almost intact despite the centuries and the decline.
But San Gimignano is not only about art and history. Nowadays, the town and its 8,000 inhabitants live on quality industrial manufacturing, just like the rest of the Valdelsa, a prospering rural hospitality business, and, most importantly, the extremely valuable production of Vernaccia DOCG wine.
A splendid winemaking legacy that is an important element of San Gimignano’s reputation: the town lies in the countryside near Siena, in the heart of Tuscany, and is the birthplace of Vernaccia di San Gimignano, the highly regarded white wine produced only in these hills:
the production area of the official Designations (Vernaccia di San Gimignano D.O.C.G. and San Gimignano D.O.C.) lies entirely within the municipality of San Gimignano.
Documents show that the varietal has been grown in the area since 1200, perhaps introduced by a certain Vieri de’ Bardi. Just a few decades later, it was already an important trade item, as shown by the town’s trade regulations, the “Ordinamenti della Gabella”, in 1276 – ‘goblets, cloths, gold and silver bowls / Greek wine of riviera and of vernaccia’ – are listed by Folgòre, a poet from San Gimignano who wrote in the early years of the thirteen hundreds. This white wine with a characteristic pale straw yellow color, tending towards gold, a fine aroma and a dry taste with a slightly bitter finish has never stopped evolving, both in the vineyard and the wine cellar, so much so that it was the first Tuscan white to be awarded Controlled Designation of Origin, in 1993.