San Gimignano

The history of San Gimignano

San Gimignano

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Architecture of San Gimignano

History of San Gimignano

San Gimignano from mediaeval times

The territory of San Gimignano covers 138 sq km, spread over the hills of the Val d’Elsa in Tuscany, Italy. San Gimignano first appears in the historical record as a village on the Via Francigena, then later in history as a castle, a free municipality, and finally the seat of municipality in 1776.

history of San Gimignano

San Gimignano was recorded for the first time in 929 in a donation by King Ugo di Povenza to the Bishop of Volterra, who had jurisdiction on the whole territory. San Gimignano was at that time a modest village on the Via Francigena, but was destined to become the most important stopping place on the section between Lucca to Siena of that Mediaeval pilgrimmage route. A few decades later, it was already surrounded by walls, and the Volterra Bishops promoted its development by conferring rights to it on a rural noble group from the surrounding area. However, growing acts of insubordination went on for more than a century until from the middle of the 1200s dependence on the Volterra Bishop became no more than a formality. At the same time, San Gimignano embarked on policies aimed at the subjection to the local Lords and the nearby castles from Casaglia to Montignoso, and from Fosci to Catignano, in competition with the municipalities of Colle Val d'Elsa, of Poggibonsi and, above all, of Volterra. Around the end of the third decade of the 1200s, the expansionism of San Gimignano was aimed at Gambassi, which was a possession of the Volterra Diocese, but war broke out between Siena and Poggibonsi on one side and Florence and Orvieto on the other, and San Gimignano was forced to choose an alliance: the choice fell on Florence which from that moment onwards played a prominent part in the political events of San Gimignano.

Travel Guide for Visitors to the Chianti Classico Wine Region
of Tuscany, Italy
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The municipality was divided into districts and from 1239 to 1251 saw the supremacy of the Ghibellines. In 1252, a Guelph government was established but it was deposed and the principal exponents of local Guelphism were forced into exile. With their readmission into the city after the defeat of the Svevi faction, the Guelph leagues were again supreme, sanctioned by the vow of loyalty to Carlo d’Angio made by San Gimignano in 1267 and by the now continual intervention of the Tuscan League Guelph municipalities. Nevertheless, there was now a period characterised by more or less peaceful coexistence of the parties. This contributed to the stable and active government of the municipality, as evidenced by a number of municipal architectural projects, ranging from the construction of a new city wall to the building of the Town Hall, plus the construction solid, turreted dwellings. At the same time, the merchants of San Gimignano increased trade both regionally (above all with Pisa and Florence) and towards southern Italy and the Levant.

From 1270, the town government was entrusted to the magistrature of the “VIII della spesa” (eight magistrates) and, with the reform of 1301, passed to the college of the "X defenders", emphasising a more popular form of government. But due to a new war with Volterra (1307-1309) and disputes between the major families (in particular between the Salvucci and the Ardinghelli), from the end of the 1200s there was continual interference by Florence, who, in the first decade of the 1300s, added to an ever more inevitable political and military interest, a significant economic penetration by private Florentines with the acquisition of land in the district and the ever more frequent resort of the municipality to the Florentine moneylenders.

In 1353 San Gimignano was subjected to Florence as a result of a spontaneous resolution by the Council, thereby obtaining the advantage of securing honourable pacts of submission. Nevertheless, this resolution allowed Florence to attain, without the use of force, another important objective in the process of its annexation of central Tuscany. After the years of growth, there followed many years of regression which were in the first place demographic: the territory’s population, which at the beginning of the 1300s would have been nearly 13,000, decreased by 1350 to less than 4,000 in the urban centre and the district combined, due to the plague, and was even more diminished by 1427 (3,138 inhabitants), due to recurring epidemics and economic stagnation. There were no signs of appreciable recovery until 1700, except for a few decades in the second half of the 15 C. In the Florentine state, the people of San Gimignano lived as obedient subjects, particularly tied to the Medicea lineage, while the reduced ruling class continued for the most part to be made up of descendants of the noble families of the golden period between the 1200s and the early 1300s (Salvucci, Useppi, Moronti, Braccieri and Abbracciabeni). With the Leopoldian reforms of 1772, San Gimignano became Vicariate Seat, but in 1784 returned to being a simple Podesta officiate, and an equivalent event occurred several decades later: raised to Viacriate in 1846, in 1850 it was reduced to simple Civil Magistrature. Among the illustrious natives of San Gimignano are the poet Folgore (13-14 C) and Curzio da Picchena, politician and man of letters (1553-1626).

San Gimignano first developed as an agricultural market town, but this activity was gradually superseded in terms of economic importance by trade and commerce. As a symbol of the town's power, tall towers and tower-houses were erected by the local aristocracy inside the town walls. In the 14 C, there were 72, of which 13 are still standing. The city walls, still intact today, enclose the old quarters of San Matteo and San Giovanni. The town is one of the best extant examples of mediaeval Tuscan urban design. 

San Gimignano

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