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The Area

San Gimignano

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.

The Museo della Vernaccia

Housed in the Rocca di Montestaffoli, a key lookout point in the heart of San Gimignano and the former seat of the Museo del Vino Vernaccia di San Gimignano, became the “Vernaccia di San Gimignano
Wine Experience” in 2016: the place to experience the wine of San Gimignano.

The Rocca is the municipal center of documentation and tasting of Vernaccia di San Gimignano wine and local products. The project, designed by  Architect Piero Guicciardini and developed by the Consorzio del Vino Vernaccia di San Gimignano, which brings together all of the producers of Vernaccia di San Gimignano DOCG, the first Italian Designation of Origin (1966), is the key agency ensuring the protection, communication, valorization and promotion of the area’s production of Vernaccia di San Gimignano the world over.

A place to experience wine directly: not only tasting, but knowledge and emotional contact. An original experiment, the only one of its kind in Tuscany: the first facility organized by producers, employing the most advanced technological and multimedia tools to offer visitors a full immersion experience.

Past, present and future blended together to create the most representative itinerary possible, aimed at the discovery of Vernaccia di San Gimignano: a wine that is the fruit of centuries of history, art, tradition and ancient farming and winemaking practices, that have made it one of the best-loved wines in the area.

Sipping a glass of Vernaccia di San Gimignano while gazing out over one of Tuscany’s most striking panoramas is a truly amazing experience!

The ground floor of La Rocca is dedicated to the most practical and direct experience of wine: tasting. At the tasting counter, visitors can choose from sixteen different labels of Vernaccia di San Gimignano DOCG and Vernaccia di San Gimignano DOCG Riserva. But the entire production of the area is represented: in fact, one can taste San Gimignano DOC wines of all three types; Red, Rosé and Vin Santo, as well as Chianti DOCG and Toscana IGT wines.

Tastings are always different, with a regular turnover of labels comprising over two hundred wines from all the area’s producers. With the assistance of expert sommeliers, the tastings – arranged on a daily basis – provide visitors with the fundamentals, for those who are just becoming acquainted with the area’s wines, and more advanced information for wine lovers with greater experience.

Those curious about Vernaccia di San Gimignano can acquire even more knowledge through the seminars, which can also be organized on specific dates, which provide those in attendance with all the information on the area’s wines, as well as some of their most interesting accompaniments with local specialties.

It’s a full-on experience, a trip through the various production facilities, supported by modern technology. Visitors use a touch screen to acquire the information they want on the wineries that produce Vernaccia di San Gimignano, including their wines, how to find them and contact information, as well as on all the area’s most typical products, such as San Gimignano DOP saffron, extra virgin olive oil Toscano IGP, prosciutto Toscano DOP and finocchiona (a salami made with fennel) Toscana IGP.

It’s a stirring, emotional experience in which the visitor is introduced to life in the area around San Gimignano. On the second floor, an installation consisting of images, lights, sounds, voices, videos, holograms and 360° film visors, four rooms tell the centuries-old story of Vernaccia di San Gimignano, its poets, the land, agriculture, the wine harvest and winemaking processes.

Wine is more than just a beverage: it is culture, passion, engagement. A glass of Vernaccia di San Gimignano is the fruit of centuries of history, tradition, hard work and dedication. A community of people who care about their land and actively sculpt, protect and pass it down as both a memory of the past and a promise of the future, a process in continual evolution that began in the Middle Ages and will continue on for many centuries.

The Museum of Torture and the Death Penalty

An exhibit with a clear and powerful historical message, displaying unique instruments that can be seen nowhere else.
Terrible devices that speak for themselves, sending a message that needs no underscoring through the representation of bloody, horrible scenes.

The exhibits’ powerful impact is channeled to make these instruments, and the horror they arouse in the visitor, allies in the fight against torture. An issue that is very current and not merely historical.

Revealing the worst side of human nature: the potential torturer in all of us. In order to help build a culture of solidarity, of respect for those who see things differently or hold other beliefs: the foundation of every democratic system of modern times.

In images and words, the museum displays a one of a kind collection, with over 100 devices designed to maim and kill: pieces of extraordinary rarity, from the XVI, XVII and XVIII centuries, and accurate reconstructions, dating to the 1800s and 1900s, of originals long lost, illustrating the unlimited ingenuity with which systems that could inflict the most cruel and atrocious tortures were designed.

A chilling journey through instruments of capital punishment, torture and public humiliation. An unusual collection that speaks of horrors we have banished from our awareness, but which for many centuries were an accepted feature of human society: diabolical tortures that make one shiver today, but that show how humans have applied the same inventiveness in the art of inflicting pain as they did in philosophy and the arts.

An exercise in memory, with the aim of documenting the aberrations that intolerance and fanaticism can produce when man, in a kind of lucid delirium, intentionally inflicts pain and death on others of his kind.

Condemned by everyone yet still practiced, torture is not a historical phenomenon, something done long ago, or only in some places, or something we have progressed beyond, thanks to social, political and moral evolution. Torture is not limited to a particular historical period, nor does it require special locales or tools, nor can it be ascribed to the powers that be, religious or secular.
The malice in men’s souls, the pleasure taken in another man’s pain, the will to impose our views on others, without respecting theirs, are not specific to any historical period: they cut across all of human history.