Along with neighbouring Volterra, San Gimignano origin dates back to the Etruscan domination, although it owes its main development to the pilgrims traveling around the turn of the first millennium along the Via Francigena, mostly coming from France and making in San Gimignano an important stop on their way to Rome.
Between the XIII-XIV centuries, the wealth increased dramatically thanks to the production of saffron, wine (Vernaccia is still a typical grape in the area) and thanks to the commerce of wool.
Excessive wealth prompted a money lending activity that brought even more wealth. To distinguish themselves, the richest families started a competition, exasperated by political rivalries between Guelph and Ghibellines, to build the tallest tower.
At the top of its splendor, before the plague of the first half of the fourteenth century, the towers amounted to 72, up to 70 meters high. In the town lived around 13.000 souls and the city downtown was enclosed in a second circle of walls. Three years later, in 1351, the inhabitants amounted to one third, entire families were extinct, the town was subjugated by Florence and most of its towers were subsequently reduced to house level.
Today, San Gimignano is a 100% tourist destination. The city outline is an icon that shows in every brochure of every tour operator to Tuscany. In the peak season, only to access the town parking lots, you are forced to stand in lines that reach the township borders in all directions.
The sale of tickets to the museums, to the preeminent monuments, the commerce of souvenir, of local resources (oil, wine, cheese and delicatessen) and artifacts (often made in China), the hospitality industry (food, lodging and transportation) amount to near totality of the city income.
The place is certainly worth a visit. The outline is fascinating, the countryside is lovely. My suggestion is to stay away from the peak season. I was there in January. That’s it.
We had a good time.