When you visit San Miniato, there is a name that often echoes in our alleys, and it’s the Emperor Frederick II, the one who wanted the construction of the undisputed symbol of our city, the famous Tower that dominates the valley for more than 800 years!
High, majestic, imposing, it was part of the Rocca, or the defensive bulwark that was located in the highest area of San Miniato and was commissioned by the Emperor as the crowning achievement of the defensive work undertaken by Otto I.
But who was Frederick II?
Grandson of Frederick Barbarossa and son of Constance of Altavilla and Henry VI Hohenstaufen, he was one of the most important emperors of the Holy Roman Empire, earning the title of “Stupor Mundi”, or “Wonder of the World”. This nickname derives from the fact that, in addition to being an innovative emperor for his time, he was also a great intellectual (it’s said that he spoke six languages) and this curiosity led him to study science, philosophy, astrology, mathematics, algebra, natural sciences and medicine.
He was born on December 26, 1194 in Jesi, in the Marche region, and at the age of 3 he was orphaned of his father, also emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, but despite this Frederick did not succeed him to the throne because the title of emperor was elective and not hereditary.
At 4 years old, on the death of his mother, he inherits the Kingdom of Sicily of which he will obtain total power once he is 14 years old.
On 22 November 1220 he was crowned emperor of the Holy Roman Empire with the support of Pope Honorius III as long as he did not unite the Germanic Empire and the kingdom of Sicily under a single crown (in order not to encircle the papacy that controlled central Italy) and to lead a crusade to free Jerusalem from Muslims.
Frederick II, however, has other projects and prefers to devote himself to something else, including territorial and economic expansions: all this, however, infuriates the Pope who threatens him with excommunication for not having yet fulfilled his promise, namely the crusade in Jerusalem that is finally undertaken in 1227. Due to an epidemic his army is forced to return to Italy, but the new Pope Gregory XI does not believe in this “excuse” and excommunicates the emperor. A year later Frederick embarks on a new crusade that will end with the conquest of Jerusalem thanks to a diplomatic agreement, and therefore without bloodshed: here he will crown himself King of Jerusalem on 18 March 1229.
Once back in Italy he defeats the Lombard League (alliance of municipalities in northern Italy already fought by his grandfather Frederick Barbarossa) and continues with his expansionist aims but Pope Gregory IX, for fear that he could again try to unify the Empire under a single crown, excommunicated him again in 1239. The latter will be confirmed in 1245 by the new Pope Innocent IV because Frederick II had refused to return the pope’s lands occupied by the emperor.
The pope also obtained the support of the German princes (the numerous enemies of the Emperor) who made him depose, freeing his subjects from the obligation of loyalty and invited the German nobles to proclaim another emperor. All this was a very hard blow for Frederick who began to lose prestige and to begin to see around him betrayals perpetuated by his most trusted advisors: among these we remember the unfortunate Pier delle Vigne who is said to have been locked up in the Tower of San Miniato with the accusation of treason (we find this character in the thirteenth canto of Inferno of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy).
Frederick II died suddenly on December 13, 1250 in Fiorentino di Puglia from an abdominal pathology (some instead claim from poisoning) and will be buried in the Cathedral of Palermo in a beautiful red porphyry sepulcher next to his mother Costanza, his father Henry VI and his maternal grandfather Roger II.
His son Manfredi will pay homage to him with these words “The sun of the world has fallen asleep, he who shone on the peoples, the sun of the just, the home of peace”.