San Gimignano is a small medieval hill town in Italy’s famous Tuscany region, 56 km south of Florence. Located on top of a hill, and fortified with walls and towers, the town has the most unforgettable skyline resembling a mini Manhattan of the medieval age. Originally an Etruscan village, San Gimignano was under the jurisdiction of the bishops of Volterra, when it became independent in 1199 and acquired its first podestà. The town immediately set about enriching the commune, with churches and public buildings entering into a long period of prosperity that lasted until 1353, when it fell under the sway of Florence.
During this period, the town was controlled by two major rival families - the Ardinghelli and the Salvucci, who entered into a contest of building tower-houses taller than their rivals. Owing a tower was a symbol of wealth and power. Over the decades, the town saw a steady rise of towers with increasing heights. By the end of the 14th century, the town had as many as 72 towers and some of them were up to 70 meters tall. The tower building finally stopped when the council ruled an order that no tower was to be taller than that adjacent to the Palazzo Comunale.
Of these 72 towers, only 14 have managed to survive wars, catastrophes, and urban development, including the Cugnanesi house on the former Via Francigena, the Pesciolini house on the Via San Matteo, and the Palazzo Franzesi-Ceccarelli house.
The city flourished until 1348, when it was struck by the Black Death that affected all of Europe, and about half the townsfolk died. Weakened by the plaque, the town submitted to the rule of Florence. Initially, some Gothic palazzo were built in the Florentine style, and many of the towers were reduced to the height of the houses. There was little subsequent development, and San Gimignano remained preserved in its medieval state until the 19th century, when its status as a touristic and artistic resort began to be recognized.
Also see: Manhattan of the Desert - Shibam
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