Sunday, 8 March 2015

Unsung gems of Europe Part 3. San Gimignano, Italy.

Italy! Scenes of Tuscan laneways with tall trees fading into the distance, stone cottages and ethereal beauty come to mind! Yes, the beauty of this countryside and its surrounds is just that, bellisimo! My next gem takes us to San Gimignano, a small medieval village set in the hills near Sienna. We went by local bus from our base at Sienna for a day trip. As we rounded the corners and slowly crawled our way up the hills, we had time to admire the locals at every stop and marvel at the slow pace of living compared to the manic pace of the bigger cities . We also discovered bus drivers do NOT let you on if you are the slightest bit late, as ours emphatically closed the doors and left one poor local stranded by the road as we took off!

The Bastione San Francesco, part of the walled village.

The first glimpse of this small walled village is impressive. The many tall towers for which it is famous, are set high against the backdrop of blue skies and fine weather. The surrounding countryside is full of vineyards and there is a vista of tiled rooves dotting the surrounding country. This village was a stop for pilgrims in the Middle Ages and Renaissance years on the Via Francigena, the famous pilgrim way. Besides the Vennacia wine, said to inspire poets and Popes alike, the area was famed for its saffron used in cooking and dyeing of cloth. As we made our way up the narrow alleys, I could not help but notice the enormous bottles of vino tempting tourists on both sides, inspiring another generation no doubt of would be writers and poets! Well, I had to try some didn't I, just to find out the truth of the matter! Strong coffee and sweet treats, also gelati, were on the menu at the local caf├ęs in the piazza, and as we wandered off to explore the Collegiate church with its beautiful chapel, many tourist buses started to arrive.

Overlooking San Gimignano, a beautiful Tuscan vista.

 By chance, I discovered one of the most dedicated medieval museums true to my heart! It was a hospital museum showing how herbal remedies were made and dispensed by the monastery for pilgrims and residents of this important stopping place. Actual books, so precious then, have been preserved with delicate drawings of herbs and directions for their use. The windows of the museum revealed a reconstructed herbal garden and an unparalleled view of San Gimignano's towers.

Urns full of herbs for remedies of all ills.

There are some remaining frescoes form medieval times to be found in the chapel of Saint Serefina who was born here in 1238. During the war years, these frescoes and others were saved from the withdrawing German army by the village women. A tall bell also rests on the floor near some delicate frescoes. During the Black Death plague of 1348, nearly half the population died, and the village remained preserved in its medieval state until the 19th century. My Tip: Best to arrive early, as the small village is inundated by tourists once the buses arrive!

View from the museum window.

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