San Gimignano, Italy

- Palazzo del Podestà: courtyard -

To the left of the Duomo, the Palazzo Comunale rises up in all its majesty, flanked by the Torre Grossa and the Loggia del Comune.  

It was built at the end of the 13th century and became the headquarters of the comune after it moved there from the Palazzo Vecchio del Podestà. For this reason, it came to be called the Palazzo Nuovo del Podestà or the Palazzo del Popolo. Nothing is known for sure about the architect who designed it, but according to legend, it may have been the great Florentine architect and sculptor Arnolfo di Cambio.

On the lower right, a balcony cantilevers out and is accessed by two stairways. This is the so-called "arena" from which the podestà addressed the crowd. 

However, the battlements that crown the façade are not original but were added in the 19th century. 

Since 1852 the Palazzo Comunale has housed the splendid Museo Civico and the Pinacoteca, containing very important works by such medieval Florentine and Sienese artists as Benozzo Gozzoli, Filippino Lippi, Pinturicchio, and Sodoma.

To the right of the piazza stands the imposing Torre Grossa. At almost 54 meters tall, it is the highest tower in all of San Gimignano. It was begun in 1300 and finished 11 years later. Like the Torre Rognosa, it also has a structure for bells at the top. It is worth while going all the way up to the top to admire the city from up high and the rolling hills surrounding it. 

One of the most famous rooms in the palazzo is the Sala di Dante. This is where the General Council met. It was so named because in 1300 the great Florentine poet Dante Alighieri came to San Gimignano as ambassador and urged the city and the podestà to participate in the Guelf League of Tuscany

The room is decorated with hunting scenes, tournaments, and allegorical figures. It is most famous for the great Virgin and Child Enthroned with Saints (Maestà), a painting by Lippo Memmi. The painter was the brother-in-law of Simone Martini, who created similar works in the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena. It depicts the Madonna seated on a throne, surrounded by angels and saints; at her feet one can recognize the adoring podestà.

Next to the Sala di Dante is the Sala delle Adunanze Segrete, where the citizen government met. The original decorated wood chairs are still here. 

The exhausting but fascinating climb up the Torre Grossa begins in this room.