Once there were 72…
A national symbol. A small town but with a glorious past, on the road from Florence to Siena.
A place visited every year by millions of tourists. A place which sparkles in its own reflection, also because it’s been listed by UNESCO for several years now as one of the heritages of mankind.
It’s San Gimignano, with its thousand nicknames, all inspired by its distinguishing feature: the towers. “The Medieval Manhattan”, “ the city of a thousand towers” etc…
Once there really were a great number of towers; in the middle ages there were 72, it’s easy to imagine what sort of picture the city evoked at that time. Today only pictures of that San Gimignano remain, with the Saint holding the city in his hands.
But let’s speak of the towers that are visible today, far fewer…To remember and list them all (even those which have been destroyed) is almost impossible, we’ll try to really make an effort and set our minds to it, so…
Starting with the first and most important, the tower of the Palace of the Podestà known as “La Rognosa” situated in Piazza del Duomo where it symbolically faces the Duomo, almost as if those two great powers: the Church and the State were confronting each other. This tower is the most important because by law no private tower could be higher than this public tower.
In the nearby Piazza delle Erbe, almost adjacent to Piazza del Duomo, are the two towers, Torri dei Salvucci and Torre degli Ardinghelli. The history of these towers brings back to mind one of the cruellest pages of the city’s history since they belonged to two of the most powerful families of the city: one on the Ghibelline side (the Salvucci) and the other on the Guelf side (the Ardinghelli), they were sworn enemies who fought each other for a long time. The construction of these twin-towers, of equal height, was a challenge to the city laws. Chronicles of the period recount that the powerful families got around the city regulation by having two towers of equal height built which, if laid one on top of the other, would have been higher than all the others. The feud between these two families ended in 1257 with the defeat of the Salvucci forced at the moment of subscribing to their defeat to knock down one of the towers and dress in black for ten years, and, for the males of the family, not to shave.
But the construction of the towers was not for everyone. To be allowed to build them, one had to possess land and be of the right peerage. The erection of a tower was, in fact, only allowed to those who, from a noble family, could boast the ownership of at least one merchant-ship anchored at the port of Pisa… Proof, among other things, of how San Gimignano was a typically mercantile city.
But let’s mention two other towers which you’ll find in the town centre: the Cugnanesi Tower also near the Duomo and the Cortesi Tower (otherwise known as the Devil’s Tower) then beyond Piazza della Cisterna; Palazzo Tortoli (now Treccani), the Pazzi and Salvestrini houses (the latter now a hotel and previously Ospedale degli Innocenti), the Cortesi Tower with the palace of the same name; in Via San Matteo the Pesciolini house-tower and Casa Baccinelli (recognisable by the majolica dishes on the facade); in via di Castello is the Ceccarelli-Franzesi house-tower…,we could go on almost ad infinitum adding to the list, the palaces on their own , but I think this is probably enough for an initial glimpse….