San Gimignano Culture
San Gimignano, once a thriving city under the Roman Empire, has been hidden behind walls of stone since the medieval period when the walls were built as a defense against northern tribes seeking control of communities and villages. As a refuge it attracted multitudes of wealthy families, merchants and common folk seeking safety. So many came, in fact, that the Bishop and Town Council in 1200 was forced to institute laws restricting the size of homes and the height of towers. Home could only differ in style and towers, that became a symbol of status among families who could afford to build them, could not exceed the height of the Town Hall tower.
But San Gimignano had other problems besides dealing with the rush to build a tower. Fighting and struggling for power within the city walls and with neighboring cities erupted. In 1348 the plague wiped out 75% of the town residents and San Gimignano surrendered its autonomy to Firenze in exchange for protection under the Florentine government and the wealth of the Medici family. Firenze took San Gimignano into its fold and gave it protection, but little else. The once thriving city went into decline for over 300 years. Neglected, the town's medieval mansions fell to disrepair and the once glorious Towers collapsed until 1674 when the governor ordered the owners of the remaining 14 towers to restore them "for the grandeur of the earth". In 1990 San Gimignano was added to the World Heritage List, citing its towers, squares, and art collections as representative of human creative genius and of a cultural tradition.
Today, the centuries old restriction on homes can be seen in the fascinating mix of architectural styles lining the winding little streets -- Medieval Sienese Gothic, elegant brickwork and pointed windows mingle with Pisan Romanesque and Florentine early Renaissance architectural styles -- and the Town Hall tower is still the tallest in the town.