San Gimignano, City of the Fair Towers
From 1200 to 1350, from Free Commune to satellite of Florence: for 150 years San Gimignano was a star shining in an uncluttered sky. In those times exchanges were possible throughout the known world; in the Christian sphere pilgrims, monks, nobles, kings, emperors, and merchants journeyed beyond the Via Romea and Saint Peter's See, to the Holy Land, where they experienced Islam's sophistication, and further still, past Buddhist monasteries and Hindu temples, to discover Confucian discipline and the Taoist culture of Beijing, where the Great Khan of the Mongol Empire welcomed all visitors.
In this splendid web of contact and communication, San Gimignano was a required stop. The Hospice of Santa Fina, the Church of the Collegiata, and the towers of the Fortress were the pride of citizens who owned warehouses in Asia Minor and attended all the great trade fairs of Northern Europe. The palaces blossomed with architectural motifs drawn from the most diverse styles, and the Knights Templars of the Holy Order of Jerusalem carved their Cross on the façades of the churches. The frescos tell the tales of the Old and New Testaments, filling them with the hurly-burly of the times: At Assisi, miraculously, St. Francis brought the flower of poetry to bloom and with it a sense of humanity before his days unknown. The rigid mysticism that had prevailed in the Middle Ages softened and succumbed to the blandishments of the new order. The Absolute embraced the delights delights of the terrestrial life, as can be seen in the works of the painters of Siena and San Gimignano, who served as unique witnesses of their times. It was a moment of great brilliance, of equilibrium and perfection that San Gimignano lived to the fullest.
With the closure of the Silk Route and the fanaticism of the Ottomans barriers arose: Christopher Columbus's attempt to evade them failed, and with his failure so did the dream of uniting the two Old Worlds. In Europe, the Ora et Labora of the Benedictine centers, which defined the course of the day, imposed upon the Western world rhythms and patterns diametrically opposed to those of the East. Saint Dominic and his Holy Brethren helped the Church shape itself into the only keeper of the truth. Man, by now master of the Earth, became the Hero of the Renaissance, capable of entrapping the Spirit in the prison of form, and our epoch began, with San Gimignano slumbering in the shadow of Florence, while Siena, too refined to accept new paths, turned in, taking refuge in memory and in an elegant, aristocratic reserve.