Someone posted on my Facebook page that San Gimignano in Tuscany is one of the places you must visit in Italy. I would agree. San Gimignano like many towns in Tuscany is a regional microcosm of the food, wine, art and design of Italy. A historic city in Siena, San Gimignano together with Florence and Volterra, has a palpable sense of the culture and traditions of another time and place. In San Gimignano that has a lot to do with towers. Imposing even from a distance, the towers enclosed by two walls running around the city are a teaser for the charm and beauty of the narrow streets, fountains and a castle that dates back to the 12th century.
San Gimignano lies on the Francigena Road, a road that connected Rome to the rest of Europe. From the year 1000 to the 1300’s, San Gimignano became an important economic, cultural and trade center with merchants, princes, popes and pilgrims traveling through its walls.
And this brings me to the reason why San Gimignano is called the “Town of Towers” or “The Manhattan of Italy”. Then as now conspicuous consumption leads to keeping up with the Jones when the richest families of the city showed off their wealth by constructing high towers each one trying to outdo the other – safe havens for an edgy aristocracy protective of their power and prestige.
Today San Gimignano is a registered UNESCO’s World Heritage site and cultural tourism brings millions of visitors to the towered city where 15 of the original 72 towers still stand. However many more towns and villages with incredible towers are hidden away, scattered across Italy. Near San Gimignano stands Lucca’s 14th century Torre Guinigi, the “Tower with the Oaks on Top”. Built by the Guinigi, then the most powerful and influential family in the city, this 44.5 meter high tower has a garden of oak trees at the top. The Tuscan Tower of Pisa may be Italy’s most iconic tower but it is not the only leaning tower in Italy. While visiting our cousins in the Veneto we stayed in their hometown of Portogruaro, a gem of a city with beautiful arcades, stone bridges,watermills and canals that are connected by channels to the lagoons of Venice. The city has its own leaning tower, a 51 meter cathedral bell tower from the 13th century that leans more than a meter out of plumb.The slight leaning is caused by the partial cave-in of the foundations, similarly to that of the Pisa Tower.
Almost every castle and cathedral in Italy has a towering structure attached to it that will keep you looking up. Other towers of note include –
Torre degli Asinelli and La Torre della Garisenda in Bologna
Torre del Mangia in Siena
Giotto’s Campanile in Florence
Campanile di San Marco in Venice
The Tower of the Winds in Vatican City
The Torrazzo in Cremona
The Filarete Tower at Castello Sforza in Milan