San Gimignano was an important centre for trade from the time of its birth as a village in 988.
Many legends are told of the earlier origins of the city, but it is very probable that the ancient San Gimignano was founded in the 6th and 7th century around a church dedicated to San Gimignano, who became the patron saint of the town, and also around Saint Gimignano Castle (also known as the Castello della Selva or 'Castle of the Wood').
In 929 Hugh, King of Italy from 880-948, gave the Bishop of Volterra a town called Monte della Torre that belonged for many centuries to the Bishop of Volterra and under whose rule the city grew in terms of buildings (the construction of the Collegiate) and economically because of its strategic geographical position along the Via Francigena.
Between the 11th and 12th centuries it improved the city walls, present since its foundation, by which San Gimignano was accessed by three gates (the St. Matthew, St. John and Fountain Gates). From the early 13th century San Gimignano became a Municipality away from the power of the bishop.
San Gimignano at that time had a very active mercantile bourgeoisie that made the city the heart of the saffron trade. In this period the growth of the city was at its peak with the construction of important buildings and churches.
San Gimignano, like all Italian cities of the Middle Ages, was involved in long battles - against the city of Volterra and the internal struggles between the Guelphs and Ghibellines, passing first under the government of the former and then the other, and submitting to the Emperor Frederick II of Swabia (1194-1250).
After the Ghibelline conquest there was a new building fervour, with the construction of new walls and mansions, the towers of which are a tangible testimony to the power obtained by the merchant class in the city.
The town remained deeply divided by the struggle between the opposing factions - the Cardinal of Acquasparta [1240-1302] came as a peacemaker in 1298, and in 1299 the great poet Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) was in the city, as an ambassador for the Republic of Florence.
San Gimignano in the 14th century began a slow decline, coming under the rule of Florence (1348), the power of which over San Gimignano lasted until the middle of the 16th century, and halting any building development in the city apart from the work of strengthening the fortified walls.
After the fall of the Medici Family, San Gimignano belonged to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany until the Napoleonic age, when Napoleon himself entrusted the government of the Grand Duchy to his sister Elise (1777-1820) between 1809 and 1814.
After that date San Gimignano returned to the Grand Duke of Tuscany until the unification of Italy under Ferdinand III (1769-1824).
See the San Gimignano travel guide.