San Gimignano

The view of San Gimignano from the Montenidoli hill

The city of the fair towers

From 1200 to 1350, from free commune to satellite of Florence: for 150 years San Gimignano was a star shining in an uncluttered sky. In that period, travel throughout the known world was possible. In the Christian sphere, pilgrims, monks, merchants, nobles, kings and emperors journeyed beyond Rome and Saint Peter’s See to the Holy Land, where they experienced Islam’s sophistication, and further still, past Buddhist monasteries and Hindu temples, to discover Confucian discipline and the Taoist culture of China, where the Great Khan of the Mongol Empire welcomed all visitors

San Gimignano was a required stop in this international network of contact and communication. The town was living through a time of great stability, well-being and brilliance. Its citizens owned warehouses in Asia Minor and attended all the great trade fairs of Northern Europe. They took pride in the splendour of their buildings, such as the Hospice of Santa Fina, the Church of the Collegiata, and the fortress towers. Their palaces blossomed with architectural motifs drawn from the most diverse styles. The cross of the Knights Templar of the Holy Order of Jerusalem was carved on the façades of the churches. The frescos in these churches were a unique witness of this time, portraying Old and New Testament stories with lively scenes of everyday life – the rigid mysticism of the Middle Ages having softened to embrace humanity and the pleasures of life on earth.

However, the closure of the Silk Route and the fanaticism of the Ottomans raised barriers that led to diametrically opposed Western and Eastern worlds. With routes closed off, San Gimignano lost its pivotal status. As the Renaissance gained momentum in Italy, the town was left to slumber in the shadow of Florence.