Tuscany’s Medieval Towering Manhattan Project

Competition for prestige was great in Medieval San Gimignano and the merchants of the town took to building tall towers to prove their wealth and influence. Although there are only fourteen old towers still standing in the town, at its height the centre boasted a magnificent 74 tall structures littering the skyline.

San Gimignano Tuscany
San Gimignano Tuscany

Feuding families and political posturing led to a never ending increase in the tower building until it was decreed that no tower could be built taller than the Torre della Rognosa, alongside the Palazzo Comunale. Over the years some were reduced to the height of surrounding houses, while others succumbed to the ravages of time and the weather.

Nowadays, although the tallest structure in the town once stood at 70 metres, the Empire State Building of the town is now the 54 metre, Torre Grossa, followed closely by the Torre della Rognosa, three metres shorter. Climbing the stone stairs of the Torre Grossa gives visitors a marvellous panoramic view of the streets, buildings and lovely Tuscan countryside below.

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However, to get a real sense of how Medieval San Gimignano would have looked 700 years ago, head to see the San Gimingnano 1300 exhibition. Here historians and artists spent three, painstaking years creating an accurate model of the town’s layout in the 14th century. The display contains over 800 highly detailed buildings and the faithfully recreated 74 towers of San Gimingnano. The centre features other displays that record daily life in the city during its heyday.

San Gimignano was also on the pilgrim trail to the Vatican and over the centuries served as an important stopping off point along the way. For this reason too the town is well provisioned for travellers and has plenty of Tuscany villas for rent and rental accommodation, delicious restaurants and busy café bars all within close proximity.

The town’s wealth meant that it was able to fill its centre with sites of historical interest, religious significance and artistic merit. Walking around the narrow cobble streets there are lots of buildings, churches and galleries for the visitor to explore.

Popular destinations around the town include La Collegiata luxuriously decorated with 14th century frescoes and a fresco in the chapel showing the town in the 1600s. The civic museum, Palazzo del Popolo, contains an interesting collection of 14th and 15th century paintings, including frescoes by Gozzoli.

The Torre della Diavola, the Devil’s Tower contains a macabre series of instruments of pain and torture, and those looking for a little more spiritual enlightenment can wander around the halls of the Museum of Sacred Art with its selection of religious artworks.

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