San Gimignano: A different kind of skyline


A skyline from the past, surviving through the centuries to reach the present.

If you think that New York got the last word on stunning city silhouettes, you might be quite mistaken.

We are in Tuscany, more specifically in the province of Siena, between Chianti Hills and Val d’Orcia.

San Gimignano is a small town that in the Middle Ages had more than 70 towers within its walls. Rumor has it that the first village had been founded in the 1st century by two brothers on the run from Rome. After that, it had a good deal of up and down, witnessing its share of wars and catastrophes – but also prosperity and fame.

Towers were a symbol of power and prestige, but also a controlling device (which is basically still true to this day). Therefore, most Medieval towns were filled with them. Suffice it to say that in 1255 a law was enacted to forbid wealthy families from building one that exceeded in height the City Hall. People took the matter seriously back then, even though transgressions have been made nonetheless!

But passing of time eventually took its toll, and today only 14 of those towers remain.

Still, what a wonderful survival this is.



In those days – a millennium or so ago – pilgrims used to walk in great number along the Via Francigena, a route running from England to the Holy Land, passing through Italy.  

Crossing Tuscany, at some point they suddenly found themselves before an even-bigger and more tower-crowded version of this view:


You can easily understand that it was something rather unusual and astonishing.

The 14 towers still standing today have their own name (one it’s called “Devil’s Tower”), historical lineage, and a lot of legends and myths surrounding their past.

Without selling New York’ skyline short, it’s worth mentioning that this Medieval Manhattan has been one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites since 1990.

Its presence in contemporary popular culture is no less noteworthy. Videogame “Assassin’s Creed” featured its own version of the town, author Josh Grisham set a section of his novel “The Broker” in a monastery nearby, and both “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” and “Tea with Mussolini” by Franco Zeffirelli have been shot there.

Quite a terrific survival indeed.

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