The skyline view you get when driving to this quaint hill town, isn’t too different than the one pilgrims would have seen when walking on the Via Francigena in the Middle Ages. This alone is a reason worth a day trip to San Gimignano, famous for its striking towers.
True, of 72 towers that once were in town, only 14 stand today, but all the rest hasn’t been drastically altered, not even when WWII threatened this town. For this reason, the town has even been awarded the UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1990.
San Gimignano stood the test of time, strong and proud like its residents, who have never backed down from a challenge and that proved to be, at times, a bit testy too! The towers attest to their character, they’re the ultimate proof actually.
When the town prospered thanks to the trade the Via Francigena pilgrims brought, those who got rich showed it off building towers, seeing the land inside the town walls wasn’t much. Already in 1255 there was the need to regulate this and city hall ruled that no tower should be taller than the Rognosa tower (where the city hall offices were located). However, as it often happens in Italy, so much so that there’s even a popular Italian saying (‘every law has its loophole’), the rich families soon ignored that decree. Two in particular, who were fierce rivals, the Ardinghelli and Salvucci, both wanted to outdo the others and each built towers, over 54 meters tall. This soon got out of control and the city officials started “shortening” the towers, in an effort to keep things civil and peaceful in town.
Alas, the past is in the past, so which towers can still be seen today you ask? Keep reading to find out.
The highest tower in the town, 54 meters tall. Work began in 1300 and was completed 11 years later. It is possible to visit it, together with the twin towers of San Gimignano, one of the many things to do in San Gimignano. It stands in Piazza del Duomo, next to the Palazzo del Podestà.
The Ardinghelli Tower
The Ardinghelli were the most powerful Ghibelline family of San Gimignano, rivals of the Salvucci family, who instead belonged to the Guelph faction. The towers were built in the thirteenth century and are slightly lower than Torre Rognosa. Over time, however, because of the perennial rivalry between families, the towers were cut and today they’re not as tall as they used to. They’re located in Piazza della Cisterna.
The Salvucci Towers
Also known as the twin towers of San Gimignano, they originally were almost 52 meters tall. However, at the behest of the authorities of San Gimignano, they were halved. They have a square base and on the ground floor there are narrow doors, framed by lintels.
Also known as the Clock Tower, it is one of the highest towers in town. Built in 1200, it has a square base and was first owned by the Gregori family and then by the Oti. It is located in Piazza del Duomo.
Perhaps one of the most famous towers in the village, located on the north side of Piazza della Cisterna. It is part of the Palazzo dei Cortesi and legend has it that the owner, after returning from a long journey, found the tower higher than when he left. People started to think this was the work of the devil, hence its name. Because of its architecture and the material used to build it (limestone), it’s got a sinister and esoteric appearance, thus reinforcing the legend.
Torre dei Becci dominates Piazza della Cisterna and via San Giovanni; built in 1200, it has a square base and regular-shaped stones.
One of the most beautiful, built in 1280 by the Useppi family. It’s peculiar because the front door is on the first floor. The owners wanted to feel safe and sleep without worrying they’d be assaulted by a rival family (that’s Medieval Italy for you!), so they closed any street-level entrance. During the day, they would lower a mobile staircase, who got pulled up at night, making it hard for enemies to gain access to the tower.
Between via del Quercecchio and via San Giovanni, near the Arco dei Becci, these buildings are part of the defensive measures the town employed. Built in the 13th century, it is one of the highest towers in the village.
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