You simply cannot help it but notice them. Approaching San Gimignano is quite exciting – you immediately see the town perched on a hill and the skyline with the medieval skyscrapers. They call San Gimignano the city of towers and indeed there are 14 medieval towers in this small town in Tuscany (Italy). The towers of San Gimignano together with the whole historic centre are proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
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- 1 Why there are so many towers in San Gimignano?
- 2 The towers of San Gimignano
- 2.1 Campanile della Collegiata
- 2.2 Torri degli Ardinghelli
- 2.3 Torre dei Becci
- 2.4 Torre Campatelli
- 2.5 Torre Chigi
- 2.6 Torre Rognosa
- 2.7 Torre di Palazzo Pellari
- 2.8 Torre dei Cugnanesi
- 2.9 Torre del Diavolo
- 2.10 Torre Grossa
- 2.11 Torri dei Salvucci
- 2.12 Torre Ficherelli (Ficarelli)
- 2.13 Casa-torre Pesciolini
- 2.14 Torre Pettini
- 3 Where to stay in San Gimingano?
Why there are so many towers in San Gimignano?
How come that there are so many towers in San Gimignano? Why did they build them? Well, the answer is quite simple – to show off.
San Gimignano developed as a village from an earlier Etruscan settlement. In the Middle Ages the place was an important stop on the Via Francigena – the ancient pilgrim route from Canterbury to Rome via France and Switzerland. San Gimignano had also a strategical geographic position on the road between Pisa and Siena. Thanks to this and the production of saffron and wine (Vernaccia being the most popular), and of course to money lending, San Gimignano prospered and developed as a wealthy place.
In 1199 the town became an independent city-state following the tradition of the Italian city-states started in 742 by the Republic of Venice.
San Gimignano was also no stranger to the dispute spread across the whole of Italy between the Guelfs and the Ghibellines. The first were supporters of the Pope and the second of the Holy Roman Emperor. In the case of San Gimignano these were the two families Ardinghelli and Salvucci. Out of this economic and political rivalry there were born the towers. Each one came to show the political and economical power of the respective family and by the end of the 14th century there were 72 towers in San Gimignano.
This frenzy had to be stopped somehow and in 1255 the city council passed a law according to which no private tower could be built higher than Torre Rognasa which belonged to the City Council Palace (Palazzo Comunale). Torre Rognosa was the highest tower at this time, dominating the city with its 52 m.
Most of the towers were actually tower-houses. Initially the rooms were quite tiny as the walls of the towers were about 2 m thick. On the ground floor there were the workshops, on the first floor the bedrooms and the second floor the kitchen, so that in case of fire the living space won’t be affected. With the time the towers and the materials they were built with evolved and there started appearing adjacent buildings thus creating a whole complex – the palace (palazzo in Italian).
The towers of San Gimignano
Today, in the Manhattan of the Middle Ages, there are left only 14 towers. On this map you can see where the towers of San Gimignano are located.
Campanile della Collegiata
It is not know whether the bell tower of the Collegiate Church (the Cathedral Church of San Gimignano) belonged to an older church or was one of the many tower-houses before it became part of the Cathedral (Il Duomo).
Torri degli Ardinghelli
These two towers of the Ardinghelli family (the wealthiest Guelfs supporters in San Gimignano) are located on Piazza della Cisterna on the corner with Piazza del Duomo. Initially the towers were higher than what was allowed by law and that’s why they had to be trimmed down to almost the half of their original height.
Torre dei Becci
This tower belonged to the rich Becci family and was built in the 13th century. It is located near Arco dei Becci on via San Giovani.
This 28 m high tower-house built in the 12th century has a hollow structure. Somewhere in the early 19th century the house-tower and the pertaining buildings were bought by the rich Florentine family Campatelli. In 2005 the descendent of the family Lydia Campatelli donated the complex to FAI (Fondo Ambiente Italiano – the National Trust for Italy – a non-profit organization that protects the Italian physical heritage). Today, Torre Campatelli is a museum open for visitors.
This tower was built in 1280 by the Useppi family and later belonged to the Chigi family. In 2002 it was bought by the Cilemmi-Giachi family. The Chigi tower is located in Piazza del Duomo and overlooks the Collegiate Church.
Also called Torre del Podestà, Torre Rognosa is one of the highest (52 m) and best preserved towers in San Gimignano. It was built around 1200 and belonged to the Gregori family and later to the Oti family. After the Podestà (the mayor) moved from the old to the new palace, the tower was used as a prison.
Torre di Palazzo Pellari
The tower of the Palazzo Pellari was built somewhere in the early 13th century. It is located in Piazza Pecori.
Torre dei Cugnanesi
This is one of the highest towers in San Gimignano, built in the 13th century. It was more like a defending structure and was part of the old city gates.
Torre del Diavolo
The Tower of the Devil – the legend says that one day the owner of the tower returned home after a long journey and he noticed that the tower was taller than when he left. He said that this was the work of the Devil and this is how the tower got its name.
With its 54 m it is the highest of all towers in San Gimignano. This is also how it acquired its name – The Big Tower. The building started in 1300 and was finished in 1311. The tower is adjacent to the Palazzo Comunale (the City Council Palace) and is located on Piazza del Duomo. When in San Gimignano, you should not miss climbing the tower. From the top there’s an amazing view of the city and the surroundings.
Torri dei Salvucci
San Gimignano has its own twin towers – the Salvucci Towers – built by the rich Salvucici family, of course to show off their power and wealth, they had to be trimmed down later as they exceeded the maximum allowed height of 52 m. Today, the towers are open for visits and you can even stay in one of them.
Other towers in San Gimignano that have survived to the present day, are:
Torre Ficherelli (Ficarelli)
Where to stay in San Gimingano?
If you are not visiting the town on a day trip from Siena or Florence, then there are plenty of options to stay in the city. We went to San Gimignano in the summer and it was a bit touristy, but we spent there a whole week and we could enjoy the place one tower at a time, so for us it felt just right. I would advise you to stay outside of the city walls, thus you won’t be bothered by the tourists.
For more accommodation ideas or deals in San Gimignano, you can check here:
Have you been to San Gimignano? Share your thoughts with us. Or perhaps you want to visit San Gimignano and have some questions – ask for tips in the comments!