The walled medieval village in Italy, San Gimignano, is famous for its towers, which can be viewed from afar, rising in the Tuscan landscape. The village was an Etruscan settlement 500 years BC, but there are today no traces of its Etruscan roots. It is the contours of the ancient towers on the sky that now attract visitors to the small hillside village.
Ainnelise Niyvold Liundbye UPDATED: 09 JAN 2020
First historical evidence of a place named ‘prope Sancto Geminiano adiacente’ (meaning: next to San Gimignano) was in year 929. This fertile hillside location of the Val d’Elsa was donated to the bishop of Volterra. At that time it was one of the villages used as a stopping site along the Via Francigena, the pilgrim route. Moreover, it was also located near the ancient Roman road of Via Romea.
Due to its favourable location for the pilgrims travelling to Rome, San Gimignano developed in the Middle Ages into an important town. A small agricultural community arose with the production of wine, saffron and wool. At its peak around the first half of the 14th century San Gimignano had about 13,000 inhabitants and was now enclosed by a massive town wall.
The towers in San Gimignano, Italy
The remarkable towers in the village 334 m (1,100 ft) above sea level were built by wealthy patrician families in the 12th and 13th centuries. The number of towers rose to 72 in San Gimignano’s heyday and they symbolised wealth and power of the proprietors. Every family, who could afford it, built a tower to show its status in society as well as economical power. Often it was rich families like merchants and moneylenders who could spend the amount required to raise such a tower.
The medieval towers housed the family in small rooms with few openings and sufficiently thick walls both to keep the heat out in summer and to insulate in winter. The ground floor was often used for workshops.
From the end of the 12th century the towers changed a bit character. Bricks were introduced, bigger spaces and wider openings saw the light of day, and buildings of lower height began to flank the towers. The architectural style from Pisa and other Tuscan towns now also began to influence the style.
When the Black Death arrived in 1348, it was the start of San Gimignano’s downturn. The village saw a decline in the number of pilgrims and other visitors coming, and this weakened the small community. Eventually, Florence took over the control of San Gimignano.
San Gimignano has the coolest skyline in Italy!
Today only 14 towers have survived. Some of these are the Torre Grossa, the Chigi Tower, the Pettini Tower and the Salvucci Tower, just to mention a few. Nevertheless, there are still remains of the foundations of several others in San Gimignano.
San Gimignano became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1990. The still existing towers stand today on a Tuscan hilltop as maybe the most peculiar ancient skyline the world knows of!
Read more about day trips in Tuscany: 3 Stunning Small Towns in Northern Italy – Itinerary – One Day and 5 Cream-of-the-Crop Day Trips from Florence in Tuscany
Check also our Best Things to Do in Florence – What to See in 3 Days out!
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