The San Gimignano Towers are Famous All Over the World:
San Gimignano is famous for the medieval towers that dominate its skyline. Known as the Town of Fine Towers, there were once an amazing 72 lofty houses towering above this small Tuscan hill-town. These days only 13 of the San Gimignano towers remain. They are a source of attraction for visitors and the main reason for our visit today.
A Symbol of Wealth and Power
Many of the San Gimignano towers were constructed between the 12th and the 13th centuries. San Gimignano was on the pilgrim route from northern Europe to Rome and the pilgrims were like tourists of today, spending money in the town for accommodation and food. The town also prospered from agricultural produce such as saffron, Vernaccia wine and wool. It was common for the nobles and wealthy citizens of San Gimignano to erect huge tower houses as a symbol of the family’s wealth and power. Of course the construction of such towers required resources and only the rich could afford the materials needed to build them. Initially wood and earth were the building materials used, with bricks being introduced later.
The lofty San Gimignano towers are fascinating given that during the medieval period, most buildings were low-rise and construction of such towers was a complicated process. Not all floors of the tower were utilized, with the ground floor usually used for workshops. The bedrooms occupied the first floor and the kitchen was usually cleverly located on the highest level of the occupied section of the tower – quite the reverse of today’s home design. The reason for having the kitchen on the highest level was the risk of fire. In the event of accidental fire, the residents could still escape from the tower. I thought that another clever reason for having the kitchen on the higher level was that the smells from the cooking, smoke from the burning wood, would rise and thus sparing the bedroom area from the fumes.
The Torre Grossa, located next to the Palazzo Comunale, is the only one of the 13 San Gimignano towers that is open to the public. At a height of 54 metres, it is the highest of the existing towers and from the top you can enjoy a view of the town as well as the surrounding countryside.
Unfortunately, it was drizzly and grey when Tony climbed to the top and so the photos taken were dull. Photos aside, he did enjoy the panorama from the top and wondered how many of the rich patrons of San Gimignano did climb up to the top of their towers to see the views. They probably would never have imagined that hundreds of years down the track, their towers of wealth and power would be drawing tourists instead of pilgrims to San Gimignano and providing visitors with enjoyment.