Keeping up with the Podestàs: the Towers of San Gimignano
San Gimignano is known for its distinctive skyline of medieval towers. While there were as many as 72 towers at one time, today only 14 remain. Or 12. Apparently, internet “facts” are not consistent. Who knew?
The silhouette is interesting from a distance, but up close, you realize they’re just huge, hulking towers of medieval rock. However, they weren’t built to beautify the town. Some historians claim that the towers were first built as a defense strategy but most state that they were constructed to symbolize the strength and dominance of local wealthy merchants. Bigger towers = wealthier family. It’s kind of a medieval-European shiva lingam contest, if you know what I mean.
The first tower was built around 1251, and others followed. The tallest tower is the 1298 Torre Grossa, that stands at 54 meters/177 feet tall. Muz climbed up while RHOB strolled down the tiny, medieval streets below.
One of the oldest towers is the Torre della Rognosa, built as part of the Palazza del Podestà. ‘Podestà’ was a title given to high government officials. At one time, the Podestà forbade people from building a tower higher than his, but this was ignored by wealthy families, who bought seperate plots of land to erect thier own towers. Political protest through architecture, or just keeping up with the Joneses? Either way, it’s an unforgettable sight, especially from a distance.
The towers do a bit of a disservice though, as they overshadow the charm of San Gimignano’s winding cobblestone streets, numerous town squares, and amazing wine and pork. That’s right, pork. The boars that roam the Tuscan hills are turned into tasty prosciutto and stews.
Even if you’re not interested in competetive towers, San Gimignano has charm, sightseeting and gourmet experiences that are equally unforgettable.