In the Colle Val d'Elsa area all the tourists know (and visit) above all San Gimignano. The historic city of Colle Val d'Elsa is much much less known, also because the lower part of the city, relatively modern and partly showing industrial features, diverts attention. Yet the old part of Colle Val d'Elsa is so well preserved, picturesque and full of character, that I don't hesitate to put it on the same level of San Gimignano.
Before you reject this statement, please follow my reasoning.
Historians of town planning show us that, whether San Gimignano with its built form well epitomizes the typical tiny city-states of the fourteenth century, the old Colle Val d'Elsa town indeed does the same for the independent cities of the previous century, the thirteenth one (already then beeing wealthy by its paper production). This is a very rare feature: as far as I know, in the cities of Central Italy is found only in some districts of the ancient core of Viterbo (Latium).
The visitor - not even an expert in art or urban history - will perceive this character not so much in (though wonderful) main street, Via del Castello, as for instance in Via delle Romite, parallel to it, lined with modest but impressive buildings and with evidence of good conservation; and in the amazing "Via delle Volte" (Vaulted Street), public passage porch perfectly preserved and one hundred meters long, which starts from the Piazza del Duomo towards West.
Then of course in the old town there are the individual attractions (churches, palaces, museums, gates, towers...), each of wich is worth a visit. But it is the character of the whole of this city - as I tried to explain - which makes it unique.
Since a few years a public elevator - 24 hours open - allows easy access to the upper town. It is reached by the lower town (Piazza Arnolfo di Cambio, also recently beautifully restored) through "Via Garibaldi", by turning right after about 150 meters (look at the signs).
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