July 6, 2012 § Leave a comment
The architecture of San Gimignano makes this small city, so concentrated and noble, unique with the geometric pattern of the towers rising above the town. It was already known in Etruscan and Roman times. During the Middle Ages its importance grew thanks to the presence of the Via Francigena, the most important route at the time which connected Italy to all of Europe. San Gimignano almost always sided with Florence, but was unable to expand its power or its boundaries further because geographically it was inhibited by nearby Florence and Siena. The two urban spaces with the greatest wealth, artistically speaking, are the Piazza della Cistema and the Piazza Duomo. The former takes its name from the 13th-century cistern set almost in the center of the square. All around is a series of medieval buildings including, on the south, the Palazzo Tortolini Treccani (14th cent.) with two tiers of two-light windows, the Casa Salvestrini and the Casa Razzi (13th cent.); on the west side, the twin Guelph Towers of the Ardinghelli (13th cent.); and lastly, on the north, the Palazzo Cortesi flanked by the tower of the same name known also as Torre del Diavolo (Devil’s Tower). The Palazzo del Podesta, built in 1239 and enlarged about a century later, rises up on the Piazza Duomo. There is a fine fresco by Sodoma on the ground floor. One of the tallest towers (51 m.), the Torre known as Rognosa, rises up over the palace, while right across the way is the Collegiata, built around 1239 on the ruins of the old parish church of San Gimignano, with a fine facade in brick and stone. The tripartite Romanesque interior has magnificent cross vaulting. On the internal wall of the facade there are frescoes by Taddeo di Bartolo, and, at the sides, two wooden statues by Jacopo della Quercia (1421). The walls are entirely covered with fine frescoes: on the wall of the right aisle there is a beautiful cycle depicting Scenes and Episodes of the New Testament by Barna da Siena. At the back of the aisle is the Chapel of Santa Finn (patron saint of the city), with terra cottas by Giuliano and Benedetto da Maiano; the frescoes on the side walls with Episodes from the Life of the Saint are by Ghirlandaio (1475), the fine altar piece is by Giuliano da Maiano. On the wall of the left aisle there is another fresco cycle of Stories of the Old Testament. Note the fine ciborium (1475) by Benedetto da Maiano on the high altar and an Annunciation by Ghirlandaio in the loggia of the Baptistery. The Palazzo del Popolo (now Town Hall) stands to the left of the Collegiata. It was built in the second half of the 13th century and enlarged in the early decades of the next century. The fine facade is spangled with the coats of arms of the podesta. Inside are the Museo Civico and the Pinacoteca Civica. The former is installed on the top floor and exhibits extremely interesting works including a fresco of the Maesta by Lippo Memmi. The latter contains a valuable collection of paintings of the schools of Siena and Florence from the 13th to the 15th centuries, including works by Filippino Lippi, Coppo di Marcovaldo, Pintugicchio and Benozzo Gozzoli. Near the Piazza del Duomo is the Piazza Pecori with the fine Palazzo della Propositura, seat of the Museum of Religious Art with its rich collection of paintings, precious church furnishings and minor arts. Near the square is the Rocca, built by the Florentines in 1353. This solid bastion is pentagonal in plan and has small towers and the remains of walls. Other historical buildings of note include the Church of San Bartolomeo (13th cent.), with a brick facade decorated with two orders of blind arches; the Church of Sant’Agostino (late 13th cent.), with an extremely simple facade and works by Benozzo Gozzoli, Lippo Memmi and Bartolo di Fredi inside; the Church of San Pietro (11th cent.); the Church of San Jacopo (13th cent.), with a nave only and unusual elements in the vaults which spring from transverse arches on engaged piers with half columns; and finally the former Church of San Francesco (now used as a wine cellar) with a lovely white facade.