Scary statues in San Gimignano

As much as I liked my night visit to the medieval hilltop town of San Gimignano, there was another reason why braving the daytime hordes turned out to be worth it.

And it has to do with rust-covered naked dudes waiting just around the corner to surprise you.

San Gimignano sculptures by Antony Gormley

If there’s anything that could make me glad to be surrounded by a busload of tourists, it was the sight of a naked man slathered in red in the shadows of a deserted medieval town. Believe me, it was far more reassuring in the daylight than it was at midnight!

These rusty naked men are part of an exhibit called Vessel by sculptor Antony Gormley. Beginning with 39 interconnected box structures in the Galleria Continua, the exhibit spills out into the streets of San Gimignano with six identical figures by Gormley—all of which are casts of his own naked body. Iiiiinteresting.

I saw only two of the six figures placed around the town, although I didn’t see the sculpture that was atop one of San Gimignano’s famous 13th century skyscrapers. A similar shock factor was involved in Gormley’s first exhibit of public art in New York, called Event Horizon. He perched 31 figures on rooftops and on the edges of buildings in Manhattan, freaking out passersby who thought they were seeing suicides in the making!

As public art goes, I would put these into the categories of striking, eerie and haunting. What would freak you out more: seeing a potential jumper on your way to work, or seeing a naked man covered in red in an empty street at midnight?

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San Gimignano: Night vs day

Confession: I wasn’t looking forward to our trip to San Gimignano. Although I’d heard that this medieval hilltop town was beautiful, I also knew it was tiny and bound to be overrun by busloads of tourists, being a wildly popular destination for day trips from Florence.

This problem was neatly solved by making our first visit to San Gimignano at night. After driving up from Florence, getting lost and checking into our B&B, we arrived in time for a late dinner at 9pm. All the day trippers had gone home, and the town was empty, silent and haunting.

We had San Gimignano practically all to ourselves. I loved it.

San Gimignano by night1 San Gimignano by night2 San Gimignano by night3

When we returned the next day, the place was mobbed with day trippers.

Tourists in San Gimignano

I was not loving it, but we stuck it out. Soon, my patience was rewarded. I discovered the one thing that makes San Gimignano in the daytime worthwhile: the fact that the Gelateria di Piazza is open for business.

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