When Laetitia walked into the Emerald Victorian’s library sipping a freshly brewed cup of espresso, she had the sense that something was different. It took a few moments for her to discern what it was. She couldn’t remember what picture had been above the mantle before, but whatever it was had been replaced. She examined it and found It was a M. C. Escher woodcut of San Gimignano. The medieval walled town dominated by its fourteen towers was more conventional than Escher’s later work involving symmetry and impossible reality. “Alea jacta est,” thought Laetitia, inappropriately borrowing the phrase reportedly uttered by Caesar when he crossed the Rubicon and thrust the Roman republic into civil war – “We’ll go to San Gimignano.”
Laetitia and her group met a local guide outside the city wall, entered the gate and walked the narrow streets through the well-preserved town, now an UNESCO World Heritage Site. They visited the Piazza della Cisterna, a triangular shaped intersection of two of the town’s main streets, named for an underground cistern in its center. This was the crossroad between Via Francigena, the pilgrims’ route to Rome, and the road connecting Pisa and Siena. A passage to Arco del Becco, one of the gates in the city wall is in one corner of the triangle. Laetitia’s group passed through an arch into the Piazzo Duomo. They visited the Cathedral, viewed the frescoes depicting the lives of the saints and went to the Civic Museum. Today it seems almost miraculous that the town still has fourteen of its medieval towers, although it originally had more than seventy. Wealthy families built the towers to display their wealth and power. Conflicts between the Guelphs, who supported the Pope, and the aristocratic Ghibellines, who supported the Holy Roman Emperor, led to the destruction of many of the towers. When power shifted from one political faction to the other, the winners tended to knock down the towers of the losers. Throughout history, towers have represented archetypical symbols of power. Though they are often viewed as phallic symbols, they are not necessarily associated with sex per se. Laetitia wondered what role tower height played in courtship and marriage in medieval San Gigmignano. Did young suitors consider the height of the family tower in assessing the desirability of the match just as eligible youths in Jane Austin novels viewed potential mates in terms of pounds per year income? Would families refuse to allow their children to marry into families whose tower was inadequate?
At the end of the tour, Laetitia gave her group free time to shop and went to a wine bar. Over a glass of Vernaccia, the local wine, Laetitia wrote the limerick of the day.
When a clan sought a wife to embower
With a son in the family tower
Was the answer foretold
In San Gimignano of old
By the heights of those towers of power?