Museo Civico & Torre Grossa ★★★

The tallest tower in town rises above the frescoed Palazzo Pubblico

In the late 13th century, the city government moved from the Palazzo del Podestà across from the Collegiata to the brand-new Palazzo del Comune (or del Popolo). You can climb its Torre Grossa (“Big Tower”), finished in 1311, for one of the best tower-top views of the cityscape and rolling countryside in all Tuscany.

Before the step workout, though, check out the worthy civic painting gallery on the palace’s second floor.

The small museum was built around a large fresco in the Sala del Consiglio of the Maestà (1317) by the Sienese Lippo Memmi. Up the stairs is the Pinacoteca, but before entering it, duck through the door to the left to see perhaps San Gimignano’s most famous frescoes. 

Painted in the 14th century by Memmo di Filippucio, they narrate a rather racy story of courtship and love in quite a departure from the usual religious themes of the era. The most oft-reproduced scenes are of a couple taking a bath together and then getting into bed for their wedding night.

The first work in the painting gallery across the hall is a Coppo di Marcovaldo Crucifix surrounded by Passion scenes, one of the true masterpieces of 13th-century Tuscan art.

Benozzo Gozzoli’s Madonna and Child with Saints (1466) has an almost surreal Deposition scene with a delicate landscape running the length of the predella. A 25-year-old Filippino Lippi painted the matching tondos of the Annunciation in 1482, and the huge early-16th-century Madonna in Glory with Sts. Gregory and Benedict with its wild Umbrian landscape is a late work by Pinturicchio. That psychedelic almond-shaped rainbow of cherub heads over which Mary is hovering was one of Pinturicchio’s favorite painterly devices to symbolize virginity.

Two works here tell the stories of the city’s most popular patron saints. Lorenzo di Nicoló Gerini did a passable job in 1402 on the Tabernacle of Santa Fina, built to house the teen saint’s head and painted with scenes of the four most important miracles of her brief life. In the late 14th century, Taddeo di Bartolo painted the Life of St. Gimignano as an altarpiece for the Collegiata; the saint himself sits in the middle, holding in his lap the town he was constantly invoked to protect.

This city, you see, was founded by the Etruscans and originally called Castel di Selva. When Totila the Goth was rampaging through the area in the 6C the town decided to pray—no one is quite sure why—to Saint Gimignano, an obscure martyred bishop from the far-off city of Modena.

The sanctified bishop came riding out of the clouds clad in golden armor, and the Goths took to their heels and left the city alone.

The town gratefully changed its name and has kept St. Gimignano on call ever since against plagues and other natural disasters.

Useful Italian phrases

Useful Italian for sightseeing

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is?... Dov'é doh-VAY
...the museum il museo eel moo-ZAY-yo
...the church la chiesa lah key-YAY-zah
...the cathedral il duomo [or] la cattedrale eel DUO-mo [or] lah cah-the-DRAH-leh
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
Closed day giorno di riposo JOR-no dee ree-PO-zo
Weekdays (Mon-Sat) feriali fair-ee-YA-lee
Sunday & holidays festivi fe-STEE-vee
ticket biglietto beel-YET-toh
two adults due adulti DOO-way ah-DOOL-tee
one child un bambino oon bahm-BEE-no
one student uno studente OO-noh stu-DENT-ay
one senior un pensionato oon pen-see-yo-NAH-toh

Basic phrases in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
How much is it? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
Excuse me (to get past someone) Permesso pair-MEH-so
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...the bathroom il bagno eel BHAN-yoh
...train station la ferroviaria lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
information informazione in-for-ma-tzee-OH-nay

Days, months, and other calendar items in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
At what time... a che ora a kay O-rah
Yesterday ieri ee-YAIR-ee
Today oggi OH-jee
Tomorrow domani doh-MAHN-nee
Day after tomorrow dopo domani DOH-poh doh-MAHN-nee
a day un giorno oon je-YOR-no
Monday Lunedí loo-nay-DEE
Tuesday Martedí mar-tay-DEE
Wednesday Mercoledí mair-coh-lay-DEE
Thursday Giovedí jo-vay-DEE
Friday Venerdí ven-nair-DEE
Saturday Sabato SAH-baa-toh
Sunday Domenica doh-MEN-nee-ka
Mon-Sat Feriali fair-ee-YAHL-ee
Sun & holidays Festivi feh-STEE-vee
Daily Giornaliere joor-nahl-ee-YAIR-eh
a month una mese oon-ah MAY-zay
January gennaio jen-NAI-yo
February febbraio feh-BRI-yo
March marzo MAR-tzoh
April aprile ah-PREEL-ay
May maggio MAH-jee-oh
June giugno JEW-nyoh
July luglio LOO-lyoh
August agosto ah-GO-sto
September settembre set-TEM-bray
October ottobre oh-TOE-bray
November novembre no-VEM-bray
December dicembre de-CHEM-bray

Numbers in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 uno OO-no
2 due DOO-way
3 tre tray
4 quattro KWAH-troh
5 cinque CHEEN-kway
6 sei say
7 sette SET-tay
8 otto OH-toh
9 nove NO-vay
10 dieci dee-YAY-chee
11 undici OON-dee-chee
12 dodici DOH-dee-chee
13 tredici TRAY-dee-chee
14 quattordici kwa-TOR-dee-chee
15 quindici KWEEN-dee-chee
16 sedici SAY-dee-chee
17 diciasette dee-chee-ya-SET-tay
18 diciotto dee-CHO-toh
19 diciannove dee-chee-ya-NO-vay
20 venti VENT-tee
21* vent'uno* vent-OO-no
22* venti due* VENT-tee DOO-way
23* venti tre* VENT-tee TRAY
30 trenta TRAYN-tah
40 quaranta kwa-RAHN-tah
50 cinquanta cheen-KWAN-tah
60 sessanta say-SAHN-tah
70 settanta seh-TAHN-tah
80 ottanta oh-TAHN-tah
90 novanta no-VAHN-tah
100 cento CHEN-toh
1,000 mille MEEL-lay
5,000 cinque milla CHEEN-kway MEEL-lah
10,000 dieci milla dee-YAY-chee MEEL-lah

* You can use this formula for all Italian ten-place numbers—so 31 is trent'uno, 32 is trenta due, 33 is trenta tre, etc. Note that—like uno (one), otto (eight) also starts with a vowel—all "-8" numbers are also abbreviated (vent'otto, trent'otto, etc.).