Historic Centre of San Gimignano
Date of Inscription 1990
San Gimignano is situated 56km south of Florence. It served as an important relay point for pilgrims travelling to or from Rome on the Via Francigena. It became independent in 1199. Between the 11th and the 13th century, the noble families and the upper middle-class merchants who controlled the free town built many tower houses as symbols of their wealth and power. Although only 14 have survived, San Gimignano has retained its feudal atmosphere and appearance, embellished with several notable palaces during the 12th and 14th century. The town also houses several masterpieces of the 14th- and 15th-century Italian art. Since 1353, after a period of decline, it fell under the sway of Florence. Waves of famine and plague caused a drastic fall in population and in a hundred years the town was downgraded to the level of the other lands under the Florentine control, which however prevented the town from the urban renewal that transformed many Italian historical towns after Middle Ages. The historical centre of San Gimignano is a cultural site of exceptional value, since it has treasured its architectural homogeneity and its original urban layout. It is a shining example of medieval architecture with influences of Florentine, Sienese, and Pisan styles from the 12th to the 14th century.
Criterion (I): the historic centre of San Gimignano contains a series of masterpieces of 14th- and 15th- century Italian art in their original architectural settings, including: in the Cathedral, the fresco of The Last Judgment, Heaven and Hell by Taddeo di Bartolo (1393), The Martyrdom of St. Sebastian by Benozzo Gozzoli (1465) and above all the magnificent frescoes by Domenico Ghirlandaio - the cycle of Santa Fina (1475), the Annunciation in the Baptistery (1482). Other works of the same outstanding beauty include the huge frescoes by Benozzo Gozzoli depicting St. Sebastian (1464) and St. Augustine (1465).
Criterion (III): San Gimignano bears exceptional testimony to medieval civilization since it groups together within a small area all the structures typical of urban life: squares and streets, houses and palaces, wells and fountains. The frescoes by Memmo di Filippuccio commissioned by the township in 1303 to decorate the chambers of the Podestà in the Palazzo del Popolo are among the most frequently reproduced documents used to illustrate daily life, down to its most domestic details, of the early 14th century.
Criterion (IV): Whereas the urban landscape of Florence, dominated by the towers of its public palazzos (Palazzo del Podestà and Palazzo della Signoria), shows that its public institutions prevailed over personal power - the height of family tower houses was periodically reduced after 1250 - , in San Gimignano, whose incastellamento goes back to 998, the 14 towers proudly rising above its palaces preserve the look of a feudal Tuscan town controlled by rival factions ever ready for conflict. It illustrates a significant moment in history which cannot be found to the same extent in Florence, Sienna or Bologna despite the quality of their monuments.
The perimeter of the UNESCO site, which coincides with the city walls of the medieval town, contains all the elements that contribute to its exceptional world value. The historical centre of San Gimignano has retained all the features of a medieval town. Its many historical buildings and, in particular, its towers and tower houses, its noble palaces rich in stone and terracotta decorations, its many late Roman churches inside its two concentric rings of defensive walls, respectively dating back to the late 10th century and to the half of the 13th century, together with the pattern of the street axis, retain the original characteristics developed in the last centuries of Middle Ages. Moreover, the urban fabric perfectly combines with a precious system of orchards set along secondary streets and building-free zones, which perfectly fit to the late medieval urban layout. The unique skyline of the town, loftily perched in a dominating position, can be enjoyed from the main visual cones. Despite the social transformations due to the developments of the last sixty years, the historical centre still retains the same ancient traditions, based on group conversation, even if massive and short-term tourism might jeopardize its original features.
San Gimignano has preserved its authenticity thanks to the strict enforcement of the restoration principles. Interventions on monuments and buildings are respectful of the main features of the cultural heritage architecture, history and art. This is why the urban complex of the UNESCO site has retained a homogeneity that made it renown all over the world. Thanks to a systematic implementation of the current regulations, according to which replacements and alterations of historical buildings are strictly forbidden, the Historical Centre has maintained intact spaces, volumes and decorations, in full respect of the medieval layout.
Protection and management
There are different legal protection instruments on different scales. On a national scale, the UNESCO site is subjected to the national rules on protection and preservation of the cultural heritage (“Codice dei beni culturali e del paesaggio” – Code of cultural heritage and landscape), according to which any interventions are subjected to the approval of Ministero per i Beni e le Attività culturali (Minister of Cultural Heritage and Activities), whose peripheral Offices verify if the works are compatible with the preservation criteria. On a town level, an accurate town planning (Piano Strutturale 2007), and its enforcement instruments, set detailed rules on appointment and localization of town planning functions and they can be considered as strict means of preventive and systematic control for all kinds of public and private interventions regarding the historical centre and the landscape of San Gimignano. The set of rules established by the managing instruments of the territory aims to the protection and the enhancement of the historical urban fabric and of the original town settlement. This means that inside the historical centre the only interventions allowed are the ones aiming to the preservation and rescue of the typical, morphological, and formal features of the existing buildings, of their appliances, and of the empty areas they produce, and of all the elements that contribute to the definition of a town identity. Only traditional materials and techniques are used. Moreover, the Municipal Administration has added several rules to regulate and control any transformations in the historical centre under different points of view (tourism, trade, ad bill sticking, traffic, acoustic noise and electromagnetic pollution, use of public ground, etc.). In particular, in order to fight against the impact of massive tourism in terms of modifications of urban functions and decorations, the Municipal Administration has promoted strict rules to prevent modifications of intended use and transformations in the appearance of business premises.
The UNESCO site of San Gimignano is managed by a set of public subjects who work at different levels and with different competences. Among them, in particular, the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities (Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali), with its peripheral offices, deals with the protection and the preservation of the cultural heritage, and the Municipal Administration defines and carries out strategies for the preservation and the management of the Town thanks to town planning instruments and to the rules that regulate the activities on the territory. The other local bodies (Region and Province) contribute to the protection, preservation, and management of the cultural heritage, and promote enhancement activities. The Municipal Administration