In San Gimignano today only 14 towers remain of the 72 which stood in the 14th century. This still makes it the "city of beautiful towers" and guaranteed its UNESCO World Heritage Site recognition. But one questions why its medieval citizens opted to build to dizzying heights and what was living like with one room per floor.
In the 13thcentury towns such as San Gimignano were often run by feuding noble families, whose towers would show their economical power, in part because the building process, involving digging the materials, carting them to the site and building the tower, was neither simple nor cheap. The towers were, and still are, owned by private families.
The ground floor would consist of a workshop, the 1stand 2ndfloors the bedrooms, the top floor the kitchen – in such a way that an accidental fire in the kitchen would allow residents to escape safely. Rooms (1 x 2 m.) had few openings and 2 m. thick walls which keep things and people cool in the summer, warm in the winter. In the Palazzo Comunale or Town Hall, which is open to the public, one appreciates this even in the hottest summer day. The Palazzo containing the ancient Council Hall and a gallery of Tuscan painters, has fascinating frescoes of life in the Middle Ages.
Towers grew to a height of 70 m. until the city council decided that no one was to have a tower higher than that of the Palazzo Comunale, or city hall. Families would periodically wage war on their rivals and towers offered shelter and strategic defense. Rivalry was so fierce between families living in the Twin Towers that city officials ruled that the towers be lopped out and they now stand to half their height.
You may note that one of the towers originally had a first floor entrance, rather than one on the ground floor. So fearful of nighttime attack were the residents of the Torre Chigi that the ladder that allowed access to the tower during the daytime was brought in to keep the tower inviolate when they slept.
Pay a visit to the Torre Grossa, which is 54 m. (218 steps), a height that took 11 years to achieve, and Torre del Podestàin Piazza Duomo to get a feel for how citizens must have felt in their medieval skyscrapers and appreciate what good knees they must have had.