Under the Tuscan Spell
San Gimignano dominates the Elsa River Valley with its medieval towers silhouetted against the Tuscan sky. There were once 76 towers in the town built by the rich noble families demanding their place of dominance above the vineyards and olive groves. Only 13 remain today, but they alone are worth the trip.
The hilltop site once housed a small Etruscan village around 200–300 BC. Twelve hundred years later it took the name of the Holy Bishop of Modena, Saint Gimignano, who is said to have saved the village from the barbarian hordes, i.e. Franks and Germans.
During the Middle Ages, the town was on the well–traveled French Road from Rome to Paris. Traders, pilgrims, and crusaders brought wealth to the citizenry. The town became famous for its silk sheets, sugared nuts, sweets, and sparkling wine. From the wealth came churches, monasteries, and the towers.
The population was all but wiped out during the Black Death Plague of 1348 and soon became a vassal state to Florence. During the Renaissance and the unification of Italy, San Gimignano remained a backwater town, untouched by prosperity or war. The result of this stagnation has been a remarkable medieval town, a wonderful place to walk cobblestone streets, touch sandstone buildings, and imagine Dante sitting on a bench dreaming of Beatrice.
While my Beatrice, Linda, shopped for licorice and saffron, I turned my attention to the door knockers of San Gimignano. It seems the wealthy noble families each had their own knocker design. None of the passing armies over the years bothered to steal them, so they remain a symbol of wealth and genealogy. To me, San Gimignano is the City of Beautiful Knockers.
(Next week: Siena,
home of the Palio)