Manhattan in Tuscany

They must have been pretty useful at one time or another, those towers in San Gimignano in Tuscany, Italy. Historians haven't reached an agreement yet about their original goal was. Their estimated guesses mount up to functions such as storage space or defence. In medieval times, San Gimignano was a town devoted to trade, situated on a crossing of some main trade routes from the east to the west.

But, as things go: the practical towers grew out of proportion, into a status symbol. Everybody wanted a tower bigger than the next door neighbors, to show the wealth of the family owning the tower. Laws dictated only that the towers shouldn't be higher than the La Rognosa, the 51 metres high tower of the Palazzo del Podestà (the seat of the magistrate). And even though a tower of 50 metres high wasn't of that much use in medieval Tuscany, as the years passed, the towers of San Gimignano grew higher and higher. And their numbers kept increasing, too. Eventually, there were 72 of these towers in the city.

And the story goes as many historical stories go: the righ and famous families of San Gimignano were increasingly obsessed with their rivalries and feuds. And eventually, they couldn't defend themselves against the attacks from Volterra or Poggibonsi. The power and wealth of the high society of the town decreased, and the towers became obsolete. Slowly, San Gimignano became a sleepy, dull town.

And paradoxically, that is exactly the reason that 15 out of the original 72 towers are still standing in San Gimignano as a unique tourist attraction in this particular small town in Tuscany.

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