Thursday, June 20, 2013

Saffron and Wine in San Gimignano

Two of the towers (left) were not taller than the government's
San Gimignano, as described by Millie, is the pinnacle of Tuscan towns. After riding a charter bus and meeting a tour guide outside of this village, we were captured by the beauty of this ancient town. It was quaint, but also rich with history—facts that we learned during our tour of the city. Thirteen towers loomed over the cityscape on top of the hill, and our tour guide told us that over seventy had once stood prominently inside of the city walls during the middle ages. When the style of fashionable buildings changed, many people tried to combine their towers in order to create palaces, but the government restricted many of these tower merges by fining the owners trying to change the skyline of San Gimignano. The end result of these regulations was the thirteen towers that we saw as we walked through the city. We learned that all of the towers built during the middle ages were shorter than the government’s towers, a protection of power enacted after fights broke out over whose family would be most important and have the tallest tower.
One of the palaces built by conjoining towers
After we learned about the history of buildings, our tour guide explained the importance of San Gimignano’s major exports: saffron and white wine. We had learned about saffron and how it is produced in our class before we left for Italy, so it was exciting to actually hear about its uses from a local in this Tuscan town. Our tour guide told us that in ancient times, saffron was commonly used in capsules and pills, as it was cherished for its medicinal values. She also explained that saffron was used as a yellow dye for cloth. It was incredibly expensive in the middle ages, and it still is today. Roughly 150,000 Crocus flowers are used for one kilogram of saffron, since the stigma of each flower is what creates this precious spice, and each flower must be hand-harvested in order to have saffron.
The beautiful San Gimignano vista
We also learned about the production of a specific white wine in San Gimignano: Vernaccia di San Gimignano. Our tour guide told us about how Lorenzo de' Medici loved the white wine that San Gimignano produced, and would often buy out the entire city’s supply of it. After the government advised him not to drink so much of it because of his health, he admitted that the large amount of wine that he procured was for his mother—the true fanatic. I purchased a bottle of this local specialty wine in town, and we got to enjoy it that night for dinner. I was pretty impressed!
In all, I really enjoyed seeing the ancient city of San Gimignano and learning about the specific exports that this area specializes in. I have a new appreciation for the products that have come from this ancient town, both in the past and the present, and I think it is fascinating it has produced such important exports for centuries to come.

Molly Mitchell

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