Medieval Skyscrapers : The Historic Centre of San Gimignano

A cluster of high-rise buildings stands out in the rolling hills of Tuscany in central Italy. These towers were built in San Gimignano between the 11th and the 14th centuries. Part of the medieval townscape remains intact. 14 towers still stand today though a total of 72 overlooked the town in the 13th century. They were originally built so people could watch over their enemies.

In the beginning of the 12th century, the town was divided into two areas. As the conflict continued people on each side built towers one after another. The tower soon became a symbol of their power and everybody started to build increasingly higher towers. This one is known as the Devils Tower, owing to cracks believed to have been made by lightning struck by the devil. It is thought likely that these high towers could have been hit by lightning.

This is the Becci Tower. Housing was later added onto the base. Houses are built in a U-shape surrounding the tower, using the outer wall as an interior house wall. Thick tower walls keep the room temperature comfortably cool in summer and warm in winter. However, there are disadvantages: though the stone walls are beautiful, they make the room dusty. High-tower building competition ended at the beginning of the 14th century.

The city authority built this 54-meter high tower and banned the construction of any other higher towers. Existing towers which were higher had to be lowered. But local tower owners didnt give up easily. They started to build twin towers instead, believing two towers better than one. And so even more towers were built. The town declined rapidly after being hit by plague during the mid-14th century. Over the centuries, towers fell into disrepair and collapsed. Just 14 remain today.

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