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Developing sustainable rural tourism in San Gimignano (Italy)

In reaction to the sharp increase in incoming visitors over the last decades, San Gimignano has developed several initiatives to promote sustainable tourism and support jobs and local livelihoods while respecting the town’s cultural heritage, ensuring that the historic city with its context and communities plays an important role in the day-to-day management of the World Heritage property.

About San Gimignano

San Gimignano is a small town located in Tuscany, in central Italy, with a very rich cultural heritage. The town, with its iconic skyline defined by towers, surrounded by a vine-filled countryside, is a popular tourist destination. As a consequence, tourism is one of the main sectors of employment, together with light industry, public sector and agriculture. The town has an active community life with a population of 7,800 people, and is also home to more than 50 local associations.

San Gimignano was an important relay point for pilgrims travelling to or from Rome on the Via Francigena. The patrician families who controlled the town built around 72 tower-houses (some as high as 50m) as symbols of their wealth and power. Although only 14 have survived, San Gimignano has retained its medieval atmosphere and appearance. The town also has several masterpieces of 14th- and 15th-century Italian art.

View of San Gimignano and surrounding landscape © Andrea Migliorni
View of the Historic Centre of San Gimignano from one of the towers © Comune di San Gimignano

The Historic Centre of San Gimignano was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1990 under criteria (i), (iii) and (iv). The management of the property is under the responsibility of the city administration (Municipality), in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture and the University of Florence.

Developing sustainable rural tourism in San Gimignano (Italy)

In reaction to the sharp increase in incoming visitors over the last decades, San Gimignano has developed several initiatives to develop sustainable tourism practices that involve the local community, help generate livelihoods, support and respect the surrounding agricultural landscape in synergy with the management of the local World Heritage property.

1. Participation of local associations in tourism

The Municipality actively promotes the involvement of residents and other local stakeholders in the planning and development of tourism. A key partner in this effort is the not-for-profit association Pro Loco di San Gimignano, which manages the local Tourism Information Centre with both professional staff and volunteers.

2. Youth engagement programme

On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the inscription of the Historic Centre of San Gimignano on the World Heritage List, the Municipality engaged a group of young residents aged between 20 and 30 years old to jointly develop a programme of activities to raise awareness about local cultural heritage and to support the involvement of local communities in the co-design of a new management strategy for the World Heritage property. The group included artists and professionals from the creative industries.

The Anniversary took place in 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Consequently, activities took place mostly online. At the same time, the youth forum served as a platform for young people to support each other during this difficult period.

Youth engagement programme in San Gimignano © Comune di San Gimignano

3. Valdelsa Valdicecina: collaboration with surrounding municipalities

A consortium of eleven municipalities located in the Val d'Elsa and the Val di Cecina, including San Gimignano, are working together to create common territorial strategies leveraging their shared history and agricultural landscape. The initiative aims to define a brand for the landscape region of the two valleys, strengthening its tourism potential and helping to integrate less visited areas and towns into tourism flows.

Website of the Valdelsa Valdicecina platform © Comune di San Gimignano

4. Contado: enhancing the agricultural landscape

Following the observations by the Advisory Bodies at the time of inscription on the World Heritage List, the Municipality has developed strategies to revitalise the agricultural landscape that surrounds the town. The strategies include supporting typical local food productions, such as saffron or Vernaccia wine, made in San Gimignano since the Medieval period. At the same time, cultural paths such as the Via Francigena invite visitors to explore the landscape and the connection with nearby towns.

Since September 2020, a training programme for local farmers developed with the University of Florence has been building their capacity to develop sustainable rural tourism, exploring topics such as communications and graphic design. At the same time, the workshop provided participants with the opportunity to design new tourism strategies and experiences with local farmhouses.

Source: Ms Carolina Taddei, Town Councillor for Culture, San Gimignano, 2021.

Contribution towards the implementation of the 2011 Recommendation on the Historic Urban Landscape

The initiative aims to contribute to the implementation of the Historic Urban Landscape approach by promoting the connection between the historic city and its surrounding landscape and the participation of local communities in the management and protection of urban heritage.

Historic Urban Landscape Tools

Civic engagement tools Knowledge and Planning tools

Contribution towards Sustainable Development

If fully implemented in accordance with the described plans, the initiative could contribute towards Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Goal 8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.

  • Target 8.9: the initiative aims to promote sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products.

Goal 11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

  • Target 11.4: the initiatives aim to improve the safeguarding the world’s cultural and natural heritage.

Note: the described potential impacts of the projects are only indicative and based on submitted and available information. UNESCO does not endorse the specific initiatives nor ratifies their positive impact.

To learn more

Municipality of San Gimignano 


© UNESCO, 2021. Project team: Jyoti Hosagrahar, Alba Zamarbide, Carlota Marijuán Rodríguez, Federico Rudari.
Cover image: Andrea Migliorni

Note: The cases shared in this platform address heritage protection practices in World Heritage sites and beyond. Items being showcased in this website do not entail any type of recognition or inclusion in the World Heritage list or any of its thematic programmes. The practices shared are not assessed in any way by the World Heritage Centre or presented here as model practices nor do they represent complete solutions to heritage management problems. The views expressed by experts and site managers are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the World Heritage Centre. The practices and views shared here are included as a way to provide insights and expand the dialogue on heritage conservation with a view to further urban heritage management practice in general.