Discover San Miniato! Travel through the ancient mediaeval village, history, culture and truffle festivals. You will be charmed by the panoramic view of Frederick II’s tower and the local delicacies.
In this guide you will discover what to see in San Miniato, a Tuscan village, formerly known as San Miniato al Tedesco, in memory of its Germanic origins.
The village was surrounded by walls which protected the agropolis, while Frederick II of Svevia’s tower was not only a watchtower, to control the territory from the top but also a message of power, sent to the whole world. In fact, it was a village with mediaeval origins, completely different from the others, not only for its appeal and the influence it had for years in the political sphere, but also for the manner in which it was planned and developed in terms of length, on a hilly relief, until it overlooked the Arno valley.
Travel in the past among the wonderful things in San Miniato
It is important to know what to see in San Miniato but even more important is to know its history, in order to appreciate and give meaning to what we observe. San Miniato’s origins were ascertained after the uncovering of two important historical discoveries, the Fontevivo’s necropolis dating back to the 3rd century and an ancient document.
It was discovered that the San Miniato’s origins lay in Etruscan and Roman times. Afterwards the city suffered numerous changes including the Longobard settlement, the Otto I of Saxony’s dominion and the leadership of Frederick II. During the centuries it became a truly influential place from a political, religious and cultural point of view, standing out from others due to its geographical location, situated between the most important Tuscan cities, in the halfway, between Pisa and Florence, and close to Volterra, Lucca and Siena. In later years it became even more famous for its connection to the two main roads of mediaeval trade: the Francigena road and the Arno riverside route.
In this guide we will discover in detail what you can visit in San Miniato, both for those who want to stay in the village for only a couple of hours and for those who want to discover all the secrets of this mediaeval town and its surroundings. If you are wondering about how much time you need to visit San Miniato, consider that the Tuscan town is perfect for a 1-2 day stay, as well as to stay for longer periods and for those who wish to visit San Miniato while savouring the beauty of the mediaeval village and the local products.
How to Visit San Miniato: Let’s Start from the Fortress of Frederick II
Once you arrive in the town, in order to visit San Miniato, you will immediately be attracted by the Frederick II Fortress. Built in 1221, the fortress was definitely one of the places to not to be missed when you’re choosing what to do in San Miniato.
Rebuilt in 1957, after it was razed to the ground by the Germans in World War II, the tower was 37 metres higher and decorated with cylindrical brick columns. Today, the only thing remaining of Frederick II’s castle is the beautiful tower, erected at the highest point of the village to express a strong political message of presence.
The stunning view from the tower of San Miniato was also mentioned by Dante Alighieri in his interpretation of Hell and, although he had already discovered some breathtaking landscapes in many towers, even Frederick II was impressed by this view. In fact, from here you can admire the hilly beauty of the Valdarno, all the way to Pisa, and when the sky is clear, you can see in the distance the Tyrrhenian Sea.
Stop at the beautiful San Miniato Cathedral
Visiting San Miniato means visiting the heart of the city, a small island in the centre of the village where, in the Duomo Square, is located the site of the San Miniato Cathedral. The church will amaze you with its appearance. If its exterior looks linear and sober, inside it reveals its sumptuous soul with gold decorations covering the ceiling. The cathedral dates back to the 12th century but it took only the title of cathedral after various vicissitudes in the early 17th century.
The front features 26 interesting and unusual hand-decorated ceramic basins, imported from Tunisia. If you look closely, you will notice how the arrangement of those inserts recalls the constellations of the Big and Small Bear. There were originally 31 ceramic basins, those that can be seen today are copies, created after the originals were moved to the museum, located next to the church.
After visiting the Cathedral, visit San Miniato without forgetting to explore the Cathedral bell tower, which is actually a tower, named Matilda tower in tribute to Matilda di Canossa. The famous Cathedral is frequently remembered for the death of 55 San Miniato residents, who were imprisoned by the Germans on 22 May 1944 and massacred by US artillery fire. This episode inspired the Taviani brothers for their film “La notte di San Lorenzo”. The Cathedral is freely accessible and remains open from morning until afternoon.
The Diocesan Museum of Sacred Art: the oldest in Italy
The Diocesan Museum is one of the most important things to see in San Miniato. Located next to the cathedral in the old sacristy, the Diocesan Museum of Sacred Art was one of the first diocesan museums founded in Italy.
As its name announces, the artistic works collected here are related to sacred art and are displayed in five rooms. Here, after visiting the Cathedral, we recommend a tour among the works from different parishes, mentioned in the caption written on the panels. During your visit to San Miniato and the museum, you can admire artistic works from the workshops of the 14th and 15th centuries by artists such as Lorenzo Monaco, Jacopo di Mino del Pellicciaio, Agnolo di Polo and Ludovico Cardi known as “il Cigoli”. The museum also deserves a visit for the beautiful tile that was part of a large altar by Master Francesco, the paintings of St Catherine by Jacopo di Cione, and the works of St Giovanni Battista and St Antonio Abate.
Discover the Sanctuary and the Seminary of San Miniato
Remaining in the Cathedral area while discovering what to see in San Miniato, located behind it is the Sanctuary of the Crucifix. Visiting San Miniato means getting lost in a mediaeval village where a piece of history is hidden at every corner.
It is here that you will find a scenic staircase leading to the entrance of the Sanctuary, built specifically to accommodate the crucifix of Castelvecchio. This church was built in the shape of a greek cross. Visited from the outside, the church has a sober appearance and it is only when you visit the inside that you will be struck by how the Sanctuary has been embellished with the frescoes depicting scenes of Christ’s life, painted by Francesco Baratta.
Another place to admire is the Vescovile Seminary. The building dates back to the early 18th century and has a concave shape because it follows the city walls. The front is decorated with frescoes and Latin religious mottos, which are shown and translated on a sign near the building. Each work is an illustration of behaviour: the frescoes in fact recall the virtue, patience, reliability, constancy and generosity that everyone should have.
In San Miniato, it is forbidden to not linger a few minutes to observe these frescoes, which still carry universal messages. In the seminary, some rooms have been adapted to accommodate anyone wishing to stay overnight in the centre of San Miniato. In fact, it is from here that the journey continues and you can reach the highest part of the city, which is organised like an island, with the most important civil and religious buildings.
Church of the Santissima Annunziata
During the visit to San Miniato, among the churches, there is one built on an oratory remains and it is from it that it took its name. The Church of Santissima Annunziata was built in 1522 and constructed entirely of brick. Upon entering the church, you will notice that the layout of its structure is entirely octagonal, while the pietra serena altar of the Gonfolina is placed in the centre and is accompanied by a fresco. The altar was built years later in 1657 at the behest of the noble Roffia family.
San Francesco and the Accademia degli Euteleti
Having now discovered what to see in San Miniato, there is a story that needs to be related. It is said that Saint Francis arrived in San Miniato and received this place as a gift, where at first was built a church, then the sacristy and lastly a living quarters, a large refectory that over time was transformed into a gymnasium and a chapel dedicated to Ludovico d’Angiò. The convent was expanded in the following years with the cloister and other corridors connecting all the convent buildings.
The Accademia degli Euteleti was also very important, that is why we have chosen to include it in our guide on what to see in San Miniato. It was originally the Accademia of Affidati and was founded in the 17th century, but in 1822, it was refounded by the future vescovile of San Miniato, Torello Pierazzi, and the poet Pietro Bagnoli. The euteleti’s aim was to spread Tuscan culture through scientific and literary studies. Moreover, here you can admire a copy of the funeral mask of Napoleon Bonaparte, who while travelling through Tuscany stopped in San Miniato to visit his uncle, Philip Bonaparte.
The origins of Bonaparte’s family come from San Miniato since, in the mediaeval period, his family was exiled to this hamlet. The academy also founded a children’s school before its activities were interrupted by the first war of Independence.
How San Miniato inspired the story of Pinocchio
This time it is not a matter about what to see in San Miniato, since some of the stories can only be narrated. But it was thanks to Carlo Collodi, the writer of Pinocchio, that San Miniato became increasingly famous. The writer’s father worked as a cook in San Miniato, which was called Pinocchio in past years, hence the name of the children’s story. It is said that the Pinocchio town name was derived from the Bridge of the Lice, so named because that is where the poor lousy people used to pass through. Only years later the name changed to Pinocchio, in reference to the large pine tree that stood in the centre of the town in those days.
What to see in San Miniato: the white truffle & street markets
For years, San Miniato has become a hub for lovers of the unique, savoury-tasting truffle that grows wild in the valley floor among oak, poplar and linden trees.
Choosing to visit San Miniato, it is impossible to not stop and eat a truffle pasta paired with the excellent local wines or taste the typical products of San Miniato agriculture, such as artichoke, mallegato, wrinkled tomato and mignola olives. It is said that exploring San Miniato is not only a journey through culture and history but also a unique experience for the tastebuds. Here you can experience cooking lessons or indulge in the famous truffle hunt.
And for wine lovers, you can opt for a trip to one of San Miniato’s wonderful wineries for a boundless tasting.
To visit San Miniato, we recommend you to check out the cultural activities and festivals being held since the village usually hosts numerous events such as the truffle festival, officially called the “National White Truffle Market”. This is an annual event held in the historic centre, every third and fourth week of November and is preceded by other small fairs in neighbouring towns such as Corazzano, Balconevisi and Cigoli.
Other gatherings and festivals include the Antiques Market, held every first Sunday of the month and the Kite and Flower Festival, also held on the first Sunday after Easter. On the other hand, if you were to stop here during the month of August, do not miss the Palio of San Rocco.
Otherwise, in the San Miniato surroundings there are small towns and villages that are well worth a stop. Like Piazza Gramsci that hosts the Teatro del Popolo or Cerreto Guidi, famous for its wonderful Medicean Villa which, from the top of the hill where it is located, offers a wonderful view surrounded by greenery.
Itinerary for excursions in San Miniato
If you love hiking, on foot or by e-bike, do not miss the 8 itineraries that the Municipality of San Miniato has identified among the territories of the hamlets of Stibbio, Cigoli, Bucciano, Balconevisi, San Quintino, Moriolo, Gargozzi and the basin of Roffia.
On their web site, you will find the link for each route you wish to travel, with notes on travel time, directions to places and grade of difficulty.
How to get to San Miniato
San Miniato is located 40 minutes by car from Florence and is just a few kilometres from the highway exit of the same name, on the Florence Pisa Livorno highway. From Livorno and Viareggio, the distance is around 45 to 60 minutes.
In case you are travelling by public transportation, the best way to get to San Miniato is by train, getting off at the San Miniato – Fucecchio station and taking the city bus n°320 to reach the historic centre. The train is connected to regional trains on the Florence – Pisa line.
Now that you know what to see in San Miniato, it only remains for me to wish you a good trip to Tuscany!