stands surrounded by a 13th-c. wall among the sunny hills of Val d’Elsa
and age-old Vernaccia vineyards. The wall encircles a medieval centre of
unspoilt splendour, now an open-air gallery for numerous art exhibitions.
Tombs found in the area reveal the town to be of Etruscan origin. It
expanded considerably throughout the 11th-c., when it became an
important trading centre. Made a free city in the 12th c., San Gimignano
was initially a bystander to the fierce conflict between Guelphs and
Ghibellines but finally lost its independence and became annexed to
Florence in 1351. By then, the town’s wealthy aristocratic merchants had
already built the present-day old town centre. The many towers that
enthral tourists today were built by the town’s merchants as they vied to
outdo one another in prestige and magnificence.