Thursday, June 21, 2012

The town of the persistent saint


A friend of mine had a special anniversary yesterday so I thought I’d post – for a reason she will understand – a few photos taken on the short visit I and my husband made to a particular cittaslow when driving inland from the coast of Tuscany last September. We were changing lodging, had time for one stop and chose San Miniato in the province of Pisa, about half way between the sea and Florence.

Palazzo del Seminario where clergy used to be trained.

The town was named after Saint Minias of Florence, or San Miniato in Italian, a Christian martyr probably of Armenian origin who was prosecuted for not sacrificing to the Roman gods but survived, among others, stoning and throwing to a lion. He was finally beheaded in Florence in 250 AD. Legend has it that he picked up his head and crossed the river Arno returning to his hideaway on the hilltop of Mons Fiorentinus from where the Basilica di San Miniato al Monte, St Minias on the Mountain, now overlooks Florence. An extraordinary tale. It makes you wonder about the circumstances in which the legend started to develop to such astounding dimensions.


Cattedrale di Santa Maria Asunta e di San Genesio or the Duomo of San Miniato.
The bell tower called Torre di Matilde was being renovated.
Palazzo Vescovile, the Bishop's Palace, by the Piazza del Duomo.
The arches visible on the facade of the Bishop's Palace date back to the 12th and 13th centuries. 
Remains of Etruscan and Roman civilizations have been recovered in San Miniato. During the Middle Ages, it was on the Via Francigena that served as the main route between Rome and northern Europe for troops and all kinds of travellers. In those days, the place was an important administrative centre. Many prominent persons from emperors to popes have lived there. Moreover, they say Napoleon’s ancestors, the Buonapartes of Corsica, originated from a Tuscan noble family that had most of its wealth in San Miniato.

The old town stands on a string of small hills. For quite a while since the Roman times, it formed a strategic location for a military post to dominate the lower Arno valley. The present tower on the hilltop, the Torre di Federico Secondo, is a reconstruction of the original from the 13th century.

The Tower of Frederick II was destroyed in the 2nd World War and rebuilt in the 1950s.


These days San Miniato is known for its agricultural products, most of all for the white truffles many consider to be the best because of their rarity. For the three last weeks in November each year, the town will turn into a massive open-air truffle tasting show. I wouldn’t know about the taste – I have never had the opportunity to try any truffles although I like mushrooms – but the festival would certainly be an experience.

We visited the town on a rather cloudy day in early autumn but even then the views from the tower hill towards the countryside were somehow very relaxing. All in all, San Miniato is a picturesque place embracing the slow life, a typical Tuscan hilltop town well worth a visit a bit aside from the touristic rush of Florence.



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