Syndication Feature Article :

'San Gimignano Italy'

Article Length: 520 words Photographer: Paul Williams Author: Paul Williams  

San Gimignano | Magazine Article Content Syndication - Images by Paul Williams
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FEATURE SERIES: Quintessential Europe "St. Gimignano, Tuscany, Italy"

Have you ever wondered what a medieval version of Manhattan would have looked like? Probably not but if you had you can see it in the town of San Gimignano in Tuscany, Italy. In medieval Italy there was always great rivalry between the wealthy merchant families which led to conflict often with tragic results, as famously narrated in Shakespeare's play Romeo & Juliet. The merchants of San Gimignano decided in the 12th century to advertise their wealth & status to the world, and to potential clients, by building the biggest tower in town. This practice continued today and the tallest building in the world is still a prized possession.

The medieval families of San Gimignano took to tower building with a great enthusiasm each family building higher than their rivals. By 1255 there were 72 towers in San Gimignano and to avoid the inevitable disaster of endlessly building higher and higher, the town council forbade building any towers higher than the Town Hall Tower and set a limit of 51 meters high.

As the towers of noble families of San Gimignano reached the maximum height permitted, it looked as if their tower building days were over and they would have to revert to brawling in the street with their rival families. Then one family, the Savocci, found a solution. They started building a second tower! Suddenly being a one tower family was not good enough and the tower building race started again.

Tower building was stopped though in 1353 by the Great Plague which devastated the population of San Gimignano. Its power weakened it was annexed by Florence who put a stop to the tower building for ever.

In their enthusiasm to build ever higher, the tower builders of San Gimignano had ignored the quality of the workmanship. Towers started collapsing and others were taken down for safety leaving the 14 towers that survive today. They are not attractive towers and are simply square structures that have no practical purpose. They are not lived in and apart from having the satisfaction of climbing to the top of the towers to look down on the poor people and their rivals, it is hard to see what other satisfaction the owners gained from their towers. The towers of San Gimignano are a symbol of rivalry and vendetta. A symbol of pride and one-upmanship that led to conflict rather than peace and harmony in the community of medieval San Gimignano. Like Romeo & Juliet the towers remind us of the feuds that separated the great families if medieval Italy.

San Gimignano is a beautiful medieval town with fine pan tiled houses surrounding beautiful squares. There are sensibly priced hotels that overlook the Piazza della Cisterna on one side, and on the other you can watch the sun rise through the early morning mist that hangs over the olive groves and vineyards of the Elsa Valley below. As with most old Tuscan towns the center of San Gimignano is car free so it is possible to sit peacefully on a cafe terrace, in the sun, and marvel at the medieval status symbols that tower above you.


© Paul Williams 2011. All Rights reserved. Unauthorised copying prohibited. Please contact us for usage license.

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