San Gimignano history 101

A brief summary of the history of San Gimignano

San Gimignano takes its name from the bishop who is said to have saved the town from Attila the Hun in the 5th century by clever diplomacy.

By the 10th century, San Gimignano (the town) consisted of a fortified castle surrounded by a small village. It wasn’t until the 12th and 13th centuries that the towers and town walls began to appear in great height and quantity.

As with many Italian hill towns, warring factions within San Gimignano battled each other through the 12th and 13th centuries in continuous power struggles. The towers served not only as defense fortifications but as symbols of prestige—and even as a means for drying the dyed textiles from which many of the families built their wealth.

The Black Plague of 1348 not only cut the town’s population in half, it wiped out the pilgrim and merchant trade from which San Gimignano made much of its money.

Florence conquered the weakened city in 1353 so easily that the conquerors didn’t bother destroying the defensive towers as they did in many other cities.

A couple of more visits by the Black Plague, in 1464 and 1631, ensured that San Gimignano never quite got on its feet again, leaving it a backwater city of crumbling towers and poor villagers for hundreds of years.

It wasn’t until the mid–20th century that tourism revitalized the town.

Today, San Gimignano has leveraged its lively tourist trade into a city filled with sightseeing, dining, and festivals throughout the year.

It’s definitely worth at least an afternoon visit to walk the winding medieval streets under the watch of the last of the towers.

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