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San Gimignano

San Gimignano stands on a ridge above the Elsa Valley in Tuscany, southwest of Florence in Italy. It is often referred to as the “town of fine (or beautiful) towers” for it has a distinctive medieval appearance with fourteen spectacular towers belonging to various noble palazzi. The photographs on this webpage were taken during a visit in the summer of 2018.

There were originally 72 towers in San Gimignano. An old regulation stipulated that none of them should be higher than the tower of the Palazzo del Podestà. Another regulation stipulated that an inhabitant had to prove he had a certain amount of money in order to obtain permission to build such a tower. Tombs and burial objects discovered near the town suggest it was inhabited by the Etruscans and that for a long period after that, San Gimignano was of little significance. A new town developed in the 9th century AD around the early medieval castle and this was given a surrounding wall in the early 11th century. The town was named after Bishop Gimignano who died in 347 (in Modena) and was later canonised. After a period of rule by bishops from Volterra, in the 12th century, San Gimignano declared itself a free community and it opposed both Siena and Volterra until the 14th century. It was not a diocesan seat and was thus not granted the status of a town; as with other towns in Tuscany, a Podestà (high official) controlled by councillors replaced the former consuls in San Gimignano. During the 13th century, fierce internal battles took place between the Ghibellines (who were loyal to the Emperor) and the Guelphs of the Ardinghelli family (who were loyal to the Pope). In 1300, the statesman, political theorist and poet Dante advocated San Gimignano’s entry into the Tuscan Guelph league headed by Florence, but his proposal was simply dismissed. However, 25 years later, San Gimignano assisted Florence in the battle against Ghibelline Lucca and in 1352 the town made a decision to voluntarily place itself under Florentine protection.

In San Gimignano, Gothic and Romanesque architecture can be seen in many different variations (Pisan, Luccan, Sienese and Florentine). There are very few examples of baroque or Renaissance architecture. Notable buildings include a number of churches including the Collegiate Church of Santa Maria Assunta and the Church of Sant' Agostino, the Museo d’Arte Sacra dell Opera della Collegiata, the Palazzo Comunale (once seat of the podestà and currently home of the town gallery), Palazzo del Popolo or Palazzo Nuovo del Podestà, the Palazzo del Podestà and Palazzo Pratellesi. Piazzas of note are Piazza della Cisterna (the main square of the town) and Piazza Duomo. The main streets are Via San Matteo and Via San Giovanni, which cross the city from north to south. Also of note in San Gimignano are the Fonti (a little outside the Porta delle Fonti and a large well house with ten arches on columns and pillars, originally a place for washing) and Rocca (the remains of a fortress built in 1353 at the highest point of the town). More photographs from the visit can be seen in the thumbnail gallery below (click on an image to enlarge):

The fourteen preserved towers of San Gimignano which can be seen here today are: Campanile della Collegiata, Torri degli Ardinghelli, Torre dei Becci, Torre Campatelli, Torre Chigi, Torre dei Cugnanesi, Torre del Diavolo, Torre Ficherelli or Ficarelli, Torre Grossa, Torre di Palazzo Pellari, Casa-torre Pesciolini, Torre Pettini, Torre Rognosa and Torri dei Salvucci. The "Historic Centre of San Gimignano" was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1990.

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