Why You’ll Never Forget the 14 Soaring San Gimignano Towers of Tuscany

It’s hard to miss the San Gimignano towers along the Tuscan skyline near Siena, Italy. More fascinating than the medieval skyscrapers themselves, is the story of how they came to be. In its heyday, San Gimignano Italy had as many as 72 towers! When you visit one of the prettiest medieval towns, you’ll discover the 14 remaining towers that remain–which are simply unforgettable. Read on to find out why.

A view of the San Gimignano towers on the Tuscan hilltop
The unforgettable towers of San Gimignano on the Tuscan hilltop.

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CONTENTS: In this article, you will learn everything you need to know to about the towers of San Gimignano (Tuscany) and more, so you can plan your visit to this beautiful Tuscan hilltown.

How to Pronounce San Gimignano

Before we get started, let’s make sure you’re saying “San Gimignano” right.

If you know how to roll the “gn” sound like you would in the word gnocci, you’re half way there.

If not, the g and n together make something like a Spanish ñ, similar to the n in “Daniel.”

So, here goes.

Say, “san jimmeen-nyah-no.” The emphasis is on the third syllable.

Got it?

Close enough. Let’s begin.

Where is San Gimignano Italy?

The Tuscan countryside showing a vineyard and San Gimignano in the distance

You’ll find the medieval town of San Gimignano poised upon a Tuscan hilltop within the Val d’Elsa. That’s in the province of Siena, Italy.

Its location in north-central Italy makes for an easy day trip from Florence, Pisa, and Siena alike. That’s how we saw it, as part of a 4-stop San Gimignano tour from Florence (which also included Monteriggioni, Siena, and Chianti).

For reference, it’s also just 40 minutes (16 mi./25 km) from Monteriggioni, a small but important medieval fortress.

Once you arrive in San Gimignano, multiple gates provide entry to the walled enclosure of the commune.

How to Get to San Gimignano?

The most popular ways to get to San Gimignano are by car, train and bus, and on a tour. It’s a great day trip from Florence, Siena, or Pisa. Rome to San Gimignano is about 131 miles (211 km) by car, so not as convenient for a day trip at about 3 hours, but doable.*

*If you’re coming to San Gimignano from Rome, your best option might be the half-day (4.5 hour) train ride and then plan to stay overnight.

By Car (and Parking in San Gimignano)

You can easily reach San Gimignano from Florence or other points in Tuscany by car.

There are plenty of parking lots, but in the peak season expect them to fill up so you may need to wait a bit for a spot.

San Gimignano parking will set you back about €2/hour for a maximum of €20/day.

If you will be driving to Gimignano, here are general routes from Florence, Siena, and Pisa. (We recommend double-checking your route using GPS.)

  • Florence to San Gimignano: Take the Firenze-Siena roadway south, exit at Poggibonsi Nord, then follow signs to San Gimignano.
  • Siena to San Gimignano: Take the Siena-Firenze roadway, exit a Paggibonsi Nord, and follow the signs to San Gimignano.
  • Pisa to San Gimignano: Follow the Firenze-Pisa-Livorno roadway toward Florence, exiting at Empoli Ovest. Cross south through the countryside, then follow signs for Castelfiorentino-Certaldo. From Certaldo, follow the signs to San Gimignano. 

By Train/Bus

  • From Florence, take one of the trains that depart regularly from the Santa Maria Novela station, arriving in just under one hour in Poggibonsi. From there, catch local bus #130 to the San Gimignano train station.

    Alternatively, you can take the bus directly from Florence on the BusItalia Nord (formerly SITA). It departs from the bus depot at Santa Maria Novella and brings you to Poggibonsi. There, you can catch the local bus #130 to San Gimignano.
  • From Siena, you’ll take the train to Poggibonsi and the local bus #130 to San Gimignano.

    Or take bus 130/A from the train station and you’ll either need to change busses in in Poggibonsi or it will sometimes continue on to San Gimignano. 

With a Tour Bus

Perhaps one of the best ways to get to San Gimignano is on a Tuscan Wine tour. Tours to San Gimignano from Florence make good sense. That way, you can cover a lot of ground in a day and leave navigating to San Gimignano to the tour company! Plus, the coach busses are comfortable, air conditioned, and some have wifi.

That’s what we did and we were very happy with the arrangements.

We loved our 4-stop day tour out of Florence that covered San Gimignano, Monteriggioni, Siena, and Chianti.

San Gimignano History

Frescoes painted on the walls in San Gimignano Italy (Tuscany)
Beautiful San Gimignano paintings (frescoes)

San Gimignano was an important stop along the route between Rome and Canterbury for Catholic pilgrims traveling the Via Francigena in the Middle Ages. In fact, you can still see the ruins of a 12th-century pilgrims’ shelter near the main gate.

The people of San Gimignano used this strategic location to their advantage, capitalizing on the constant influx of pilgrims. 

But San Gimignano had humble beginnings.

San Gimignano was originally a small Estruscan village (3rd century BC) that grew into a prosperous commune. The walled village grew up around the town in the 6th and 7th centuries and was known as “Castle of San Gimignano.” Today, these well-preserved buildings of Gimignano showcase Romanesque and Gothic architecture.

Like the rest of Italy, the 12th and 13th centuries were plagued by conflict between the Guelphs, who were supporters of the Pope, and the Ghibellines, who supported the Holy Roman Emperor.

This feud spurred feuds between San Gimignano families, most notably the Ardinghellis and Salvuccis.

Their economic and political rivalry led them to each build tower houses to show their wealth and power and assert dominance. They competed by building each tower greater in height than the last. 

Basically they were showing off!  The higher the tower, the more important were the lords that lived there.

This started a trend, so that every wealthy family built their own tower in San Gimignano. Everyone wanted a palace, but all that fit within the city walls were tall, narrow, towers.

So the nobles built more splendid towers to outdo one another and indulge in their need for status.

At one point, there were 72 tower houses up, as high as 230 feet (70 meters) tall! 

That is, until the city council stepped in to put and end to this craziness. 

A Height-Limit to the Towers

The city council passed a law in 1255 in which no private tower could be higher than Torre Rognosa, which wsa part of the City Council Palace (Palazzo Comunale). 

This finally ended the long rivalry.

The city flourished and even received a visit from the famous writer Dante Alighieri, who was then the ambassador of the Guelph League in Tuscany.

When the Black Death hit San Gimignano in 1348 (as it did all of Europe), the town lost about half of its population. The town went into decline due to cycles of famine and plague.

Many of the towers were cut down over the years or destroyed in World War II.

San Gimignano remained in its medieval state until the 19th century, when it became recognized for its tourist and artistic value.

Fourteen towers remain which preserve the history of San Gimignano, a skyline visible for miles by the surrounding towns and countryside.

San Gimignano in Popular Culture References

For such an old place, San Gimignano certainly has its share of pop culture references. Even if this is your first time visiting San Gimignano, it may seem familiar. 

Here’s why:

  • E.M. Forster’s 1905 Novel, Where Angels Fear to Tread, features a fictionalized version of San Gimignano called Monteriano.
  • M.C. Escher’s 1923 woodcut San Gimignano features the The San Gimignano towers.
  • Most of the Assisi scenes in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1972 Saint Francis of Assisi biographical film, Brother Sun, Sister Moon, were actually filmed in San Gimignano.
  • Parts of the 1999 drama Tea with Mussolin was filmed in San Gimignano. The frescoes saved from destruction in the plot are those inside the San Gimignano Duomo.
  • In John Grisham’s novel, The Broker (2005), the main character rents a 14th-century monastery near San Gimignano for him and his wife.
  • The 2009 video game Assassin’s Creed II depicts a 15th-century version of San Gimignano.

You might check these out before or after your visit!

When to Visit San Gimignano

Make no mistake about it: San Gimignano is a very popular and often-crowded tourist attraction.

But there are a couple of ways to minimize the impact when you visit. 

  1. Plan your trip for Italy’s off-season or shoulder season
  2. Visit San Gimignano after hours, when the tour busses have left, and stay overnight.

Otherwise, anticipate crowds.

The San Gimignano Towers

The soaring towers of San Gimignano

In other cities around the world, few towers remain after wars, catastrophes, or urban renewal. San Gimignano is lucky to have 14 towers intact. They include:

  1. Campanile della Collegiata
  2. Casa-torre Pesciolini
  3. Torre dei Becci
  4. Torre Campatelli
  5. Torre Chigi
  6. Torre dei Cugnanesi
  7. Torre del Diavolo
  8. Torre Ficherelli or Ficarelli
  9. Torre Grossa
  10. Torre di Palazzo Pellari
  11. Torre Pettini
  12. Torre Rognosa
  13. Torri degli Ardinghelli
  14. Torri dei Salvucci

Many of the towers were tower-houses with tiny rooms and walls that were 6.5 feet (2 meters) thick.

In these tower-houses, you’d most likely find:

  • Workshops on the ground floor
  • Bedrooms on the first floor
  • A kitchen on the second floor

They were arranged in this way so that a fire in the kitchen would not jeapordize the living spaces. And, the bedrooms on the second floor offered a degree of protection.

In time, some tower houses were expanded to adjacent buildings and ultimately grew to a palace (palazzo).

Let’s look at each of the remaining in San Gimignano in further detail (listed alphabetically).

Campanile della Collegiata (“Bell Tower of the Collegiate”)

A giant bell in one of the San Gimignano towers

It’s not clear whether the Bell Tower of the Collegiate Church (Santa Maria Assunta, San Gimignano) once belonged to an older church or was one of the tower-houses before it became part of the Duomo. 

Sometimes this tower is overlooked when it comes to counting the number of remaining towers in San Gimignano.

Casa-torre Pesciolini

You’ll find Casa-torre Pesciolini, built at the end of the 13th century, on Via San Matteo.

This is both a palace and a tower in the heart of San Gimignano. It features a Florentine-style architecture, two floors, and barred windows. At the bottom, there is an Etruscan grave within a lovely the garden. 

You can rent an apartment in the medieval tower-palace of La Torre Nomi Pesciolini, which overlooks San Gimignano. The palace was once the residence of King Desidio dei Longobardi.

Torri degli Ardinghelli

Areal view of Torri degli Ardinghelli - the twin towers of San Gimignano, Italy (Tuscany)

The Ardinghelli family were the wealthiest Guelfs supporters in San Gimignano. They built these two towers located on Piazza della Cisterna on the corner with Piazza del Duomo at the end of 1200.

These two towers are not identical twins: One is narrow with hardly any windows, while the other is larger and features a set of large windows under arches.

The Torri degli Ardinghelli were originally over 3 feet (1 meter) taller than their rivaled Salvucci towers, but higher than the law allowed. So, they had to trim them to almost half their original height.

Torre dei Becci

The wealthy Becci family, merchants who held important public offices in San Gimignano, built Torre Dei Becci in the 13th century.

You’ll find it on via San Giovani near Arco dei Becci, next to one of the old portals of the city’s first defensive wall.

Torre Campatelli

This tower house built in the 12th century is hollow and almost 92 feet (28 meters) high. 

The Campatelli family of Florence bought this house-tower and relevant buildings in the early 19th century.

Descendents donated it to Fondo Ambiente Italiano (FAI), the National Trust for Italy. 

You can tour Torre Campatelli as a museum, today.

Torre Chigi

Torre Chigi in Piazza del Duomo, San Gimignano Italy

The Useppi family, Sienese who settled in San Gimignano, built this tower in Piazza del Duomo in 1280. It overlooks the Collegiate Church.

Later it belonged to the Chigi-Saracini family, then the Cilemmi-Giachi family who bought Torre Chigi in 2002.

Torre Chigi is considered one of the most beautiful of the towers of San Gimignano, featuring stonework on the first three floors, then bricks and identical windows on the upper portion.

Torre dei Cugnanesi

Built in the 13th century, Torre dei Cugnanesi was once a defending structure that served as part of the old city gates.

It’s one of the highest towers in San Gignano and was built on an old palace whose gateway to the city was the “Arco dei Becci.”

Torre del Diavolo

Torre del Diavolo alongside the Palazzo del Cortesi (San Gimignano, Italy)

Torre del Diavolo is 144 feet (35 meters) tall and has a double height portal suggestive of an old pedestrian crossing. It’s integrated with the adjacent “Palazzo dei Cortesi,” a two-story building constructed in 1400 upon older buildings.

According to the legend, his tower got the name “The Tower of the Devil” when the owner declared it grew taller while he was away on a long journey. Without any way to explain the tower’s mysterious circumstances, he claimed it was the devil’s work!

Torre Ficherelli or Ficarelli

This 13th century tower is in the Historic Centre of San Gimignano.

Torre Grossa San Gimignano

Torre Grossa or the “Big Tower” is aptly named because it is the tallest of all the San Gimignano towers at over 177 feet (54 meters) tall!

It took 11 years to build (1300-1311) next to the Palazzo Comunale on Piazza del Duomo. 

At it’s base you’ll find vaulted passage. It’s coated in regular cut stones.

This is one tower you can climb when you visit San Gimignano for a view of the city and incredible Tuscan scenery. It’s an arduous 218-step climb, but the 360-degree panoramic view is well worth it. A ticket to the Civic Museum grants you access to Torre Grossa.

Torre di Palazzo Pellari

Built in the early 13th century, you’ll find the tower of the Palazzo Pellari in Piazza Pecorini. It has no windows and an arched roof.

Torre Pettini

Attached to the Pettini Palazzo, the Torre Pettini stands across from the twin towners of the Torri dei Salvucci. You’ll find it on Via Oro near Santa Chiara, just north of Piazza del Duomo.

It is one of the lowest towers in the city, at bout 98 feet (30 meters) high.

Torre Rognosa

Torre Ragnosa facing the Piazza della Cisterna in San Gimignano, Italy

This well-preserved tower built in about 1200 reaches over 170 feet (52) high. It’s almost square in shape, with a small window that faces the Piazza della Cisterna.

It’s former owners included the Gregori family and then the Oti family.

After the mayor moved to a new palace, Torre Rognosa was used as a prison until the 14th century.

At the terrace on the top, a bell was used to alarm the town of danger. Now, the bell simply marks the hours.

You’ll find Torre Rognosa on Piazza del Duomo.

Torri dei Salvucci

The Salvucci’s were spice traders and the arch rivals to the Ardinghelli family. The Salvucci Towers are San Gimignano’s version of the twin towers. You have to admit, they look a lot like New York City’s twin towers, lost in 9/11.

You’ll find the Torri dei Salvucci in Piazza delle Erbe.

At one point in time, their height was reduced because they exceeded the 170 foot (52 meter) maximum set by city hall. Instead, the Salvucci family opted to build two 130-foot (40-meter) towers to feed their ego and fuel the competition with the Ardinghellis.

One was called “Torre Salvucci Minore” and the other was “Torre Salvucci Maggiore.”

You can tour these two towers when you visit San Gimignano. The taller one (Maggiore) has 10 floors connected by 160 stairs–and you can even rent this single apartment with a panoramic terrace!

Final Thoughts on the San Gimignano Towers

When envisioning your San Gimignano day trip, can you imagine this rivalry between families, each wishing to assert a statement of the greatest wealth and power through the San Gignano towers? It’s a little bit like “keeping up with the Jones’,'” but in the Middle Ages.

Even though only 14 of the towers remain in San Gimignano, they are magnificent structures and a sort of Midieval “Who’s-Who”. Each tower is a monumental remembrance of the families who built them more than 6 centuries ago.

I think it’s fair to say, they will never be forgotten.

If you love to discover Medieval towns in Tuscany like San Gimignano, continue reading this story about Monteriggioni and the legend of it’s betrayal from within the fortress walls!

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Jackie Gately

Jackie Gately is a seasoned travel writer, photographer, and marketing consultant who is passionate about travel. She loves casual-luxury experiences, coastal getaways, cultural attractions, and local, wholesome food and wine pairings. A perfect day ends with her toes in the sand or by chasing the sunset with her camera--ideally both.

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