The most famous monuments of the small Tuscan town are the gender towers. Of the original 72 towers, 13 are still preserved today. According to computerannals, they were considered a status symbol for influential patrician families and document the Italian feudal state in the Middle Ages.
San Gimignano: facts
|Official title:||Historic center of San Gimignano|
|Cultural monument:||“San Gimignano delle belle Torri”, 14 of the original 72 so-called “dynasty towers” of rich patrician families still preserved today, Palazzo del Popolo with 54 m high Torre Grossa|
|Location:||San Gimignano, south of Florence|
|Meaning:||with the dynasty towers a widely visible example of an Italian feudal town|
San Gimignano: history
|12th century||Cathedral building|
|1262||Construction of the two city gates, San Matteo and San Giovanni|
|1288||Construction of the Palazzo del Popolo|
|1300||Speech by Dante in front of the Podestà and the Consiglio Generale|
|1323||Reconstruction of the Palazzo del Popolo|
|1456||Reconstruction of the cathedral|
|1468||Construction of the Capella di S. Fina in the Renaissance style|
The old genders’ madness about heights
At dawn, moisture often falls over the small town, refreshing it from the stress that lies ahead until sunset. Haze and fog from river valleys do not spare many Tuscan places – despite their high altitude on rolling hills, which the Etruscan settlers considered safer and healthier. In the gray envelope, San Gimignano remains visible and recognizable from afar: thanks to the striking silhouette that has led to the nickname “Manhattan of the Middle Ages”, and because of the ambitious height with which the slender residential towers can tower over many fog banks. These square towers not only determine the urban appearance. They also symbolize the history of a once strife-filled community. Arrogance comes before the fall – like cautionary cues, the towers testify to great prosperity and the subsequent decay and then mock morality again; because it is they who have made San Gimignano its world success in terms of cultural tourism after several hundred years in the shadows.
Domenico Ghirlandaio painted these towers of a boundless desire for recognition on a fresco in the cathedral, right behind the dignitaries who crowd around the bier of the local saint Fina. In a painting by Lorenzo di Niccolò di Martino, which can be seen in the Municipal Museum, the viewer looks at a skeptical-looking Santa Fina, who is the “city of towers” – like a holy Elizabeth protecting the bread basket – under her wide, red coat holds. The chronicles tell of Fina de’Ciardi that she urgently invoked peace and called for the end of the conflicts between the Guelphs loyal to the Pope and the imperial Ghibellines. Unfortunately, in a time of pomp and luxury, no one listened to the young woman. Even decades after her death in 1253, the merciless replacement war between the families of the Guelfan Ardinghelli and the Ghibelline Salvucci continued before the exhausted city voluntarily submitted to greedy Florence. The flourishing economy, trade and culture came to an end. At that time, the community was surrounded by a two-kilometer-long wall and overlooked by 72 high towers. The 13 towers that have remained to this day form the dominant impression for the global audience, who climb out of buses and cars in front of the San Giovanni city gate and hurry to the Piazza della Cisterna. At that time, the community was surrounded by a two-kilometer-long wall and overlooked by 72 high towers. The 13 towers that have remained to this day form the dominant impression for the global audience, who climb out of buses and cars in front of the San Giovanni city gate and hurry to the Piazza della Cisterna. At that time, the community was surrounded by a two-kilometer-long wall and overlooked by 72 high towers. The 13 towers that have remained to this day form the dominant impression for the global audience, who climb out of buses and cars in front of the San Giovanni city gate and hurry to the Piazza della Cisterna.
The medieval architecture of this slightly sloping, triangular square around the fountain conveys a feeling of security and gives little indication of the former turbulence. Only the left of the twin towers of the Ardinghelli is less high than the right – the result of an act of revenge by Salvucci. It’s not far to their family residence: a narrow passage to the Domplatz; shortly afterwards you stand in front of the – of course – twin towers of the other great power in the small town of once 12,000 residents.
What is the right measure for San Gimignano? The Tuscan sense of it was lost in wealth until the city council set the framework. For example, from now on the trolls of the jewelry-trimmed women were not allowed to be longer than 1.70 meters. Limits were also set for the height craze: the representative private towers were not allowed to exceed the 54 meters of the town hall. That gave Ardinghelli and Salvucci the idea of demonstrating exclusivity with two towers.
The loggia in the governor’s palace is a mostly occupied box for local idlers. They like to comment on the hustle and bustle on Domplatz in front of them – probably with the irony customary in the country, for example when newly wed couples step down the lavishly wide cathedral stairs. A lucky rain of rice pelts down a little further to the left at the same time, when more modest, middle-class weddings come from the town hall, the Palazzo del Popolo. San Gimignano has long been peaceful and quiet in the evening after the departure of the buses, before the little town becomes a coveted historical (dream) setting again the next day.