If you’re a lover of Italian history, art, or both, you’ll want to keep reading. Medieval history throughout Europe is rich and storied—and there are many places you can visit to see how it unfolded, especially in Italy.
Not only is Italy’s scenery, art, and architecture wonderful to look at, but there’s plenty of backstory behind it as well, and the medieval age is one era worth learning about outside the classroom. If you’re a buff for medieval history, here are three medieval cities in Italy you need to visit during the fall semester while studying abroad.
San Gimignano: Also Known as the Medieval Manhattan
With medieval architecture adorning its scenery and hilltop setting, this town should be one of the first places you go to. Having made a name for itself during the 13th century, San Gimignano was known for being home to a number of affluent families who wrestled with each other over influence and control of the town, as well as where numerous boundary walls were built—many of which are still standing.
The town is also known for its lofty tower houses, of which there were once 72. Its tallest, the Torre Grossa, stands at 177 feet high. Other sites worth seeing are the Palazzo della Podesta (the house of the mayor), the Palazzo Comunale (its former town hall), and the Duomo, whose interior features 1300s-era artwork from Michelangelo as well as pieces dedicated to events in the Old Testament. It’s no wonder why San Gimignano is known by some as the “medieval Manhattan”.
Siena: Tuscany’s Hub for Medieval History and Architecture
Between its Gothic buildings, famous artwork on display at the Duomo, and many other historic landmarks in between, Siena is just as much of a must for international students in Italy to visit as San Gimignano—if not more so. Go see the Palio di Siena horse race at the Piazza del Campo, which is known as Italy’s most iconic medieval square, and which has served as Siena’s main public space since being paved in 1349. You can also visit the Palazzo Pubblico, the town hall whose architecture is a blend of medieval and Gothic.
You can also visit its historic medieval castles, such as the Castello di Celsa and the Castello di Barone Ricasoli—the latter being known as the birthplace of Chianti wine. Combining the best of both worlds between the medieval and renaissance ages, Siena should be towards the top of the list for anyone visiting Tuscany.
Viterbo: A Bit Closer to Home for Those Who Study in Rome
If you’re looking for a medieval town just a little closer to campus while you study at John Cabot in Rome, this might just be your ticket. Known as the most well-preserved medieval town in the Lazio region, Viterbo was taken over by the Romans after being initially founded by the Etruscans, and was once home to the seat of the papacy.
In fact, one of Viterbo’s biggest attractions is the Papal Palace (Palazzo dei Papi), which was built in the 13th century and had the papal seat for around two decades. Located about an hour and a half north of Rome, this town also boasts its San Pellegrino quarter (a cobblestone quarter featuring many medieval houses) and the Piazza San Lorenzo, which is home to the Viterbo Cathedral. For those interested in poetry, Dante’s Divine Comedy (more specifically, Dante’s Inferno) references the Bulicame hot springs, which are also located in Viterbo.
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