San Gimignano is a Medieval village between Florence and Siena, and is certainly one of the most visited destinations in the Tuscan countryside. It is famous for its turreted profile that makes it unique and unmissable. When we talk about San Gimignano, we often find it described as a Medieval Manhattan, obviously in relation to the towers that, in the distance, remind one of the skyscrapers of New York.
The towers that rise from the historic center are little more than a dozen, but in the Middle Ages the number was much higher, reaching a maximum of 72. What happened to these buildings? Well, many of these towers have been lowered over the centuries as they were built with perishable materials, such as stone and earth, and, above all, were built far too high, making them very dangerous. Many were consequently reduced to the height of adjacent buildings. You will understand then that the bases of some of these towers, deprived of their terminal parts, are often recognizable at the city palaces.
These buildings, initially built for defense, gradually became a symbol of power and wealth. Why? Only the wealthiest families could afford the construction of a tower. In fact, some of the most illustrious families did not settle for a single tower – they built two adjacent ones … and those who visit San Gimignano will therefore see the twin towers of the Ardinghelli and those of the Salvucci family, who had a strong rivalry.
Some of the towers are now open to the public, such as the Campatelli Tower, the twin towers of the Salvucci family and the Grossa Tower of the Palazzo Pubblico. Others are still used as dwellings. Among the most famous towers, beyond those already mentioned, there are the Torre del Diavolo (Tower of the Devil) and the Rognosa Tower. The first was made famous by a legend that said the owner of the building, returning from a long journey, found the tower inexplicably higher and blamed the devil for this. The Rognosa Tower overlooks the main square and was originally the residence of the mayor, but during the 1300s it was turned into a prison. It was once the tallest tower, but was later passed by the tower of the public building, called Torre Grossa. The Palazzo Pubblico still performs its original function, but a part of it is open to visitors: with the admission ticket it is also possible to visit the Civic Museum and climb up to the top of the tower, more than 50 meters high. Needless to say, the view enjoyed from up there is breathtaking. If you do not feel like climbing more than 200 steps, but at the same time do not want to miss out on some unique photos to show friends, do not worry as there is a solution: just walk to the fortress, just a few minutes from the main square, and climb the only tower still accessible. With just over 20 steps, you can admire a beautiful view of the city and the surrounding countryside.
San Gimignano has recently become popular among the new generations, since it appears in the second video of the Assassin’s Creed video game, which is set in the Tuscan Renaissance. In particular, the Grossa Tower houses, in the video game, the tomb of the murderer. Together with San Gimignano and Florence, there is another village not far from here that appears among the video game locations. I refer to Monteriggioni, a castle that you will find along the road that connects Florence and Siena, and built by the Sienese for defense. Today, it still appears surrounded by walls and defense towers. Although still towers, I assure you that the image that will present itself before your eyes will be totally different to San Gimignano’s cityscape. In this case, in fact, the towers are not located within the historic center and run around the walls instead, making the village look like a royal crown. A short stop in Monteriggioni to enjoy an ice cream or an aperitif in one of the many bars overlooking the main square could prove to be a pleasant discovery, not just for video game lovers! But for those who would like to enjoy the charm of the castle and want to stop for a few more hours, I recommend visiting the Armature Museum or walking on the walkways above the walls.
Visit San Gimignano on a Custom Italian Tour
If you would like to visit San Gimignano and discover its towers on a custom Italian tour, contact us to find out more about our luxury Tuscany vacations. Call on 347-594-5500 or click here to send an online enquiry for a personalized quote.
By Benedetta Landi, Bellarome Tour Director (Siena and the surrounding area)