Pisa is renowned town in Tuscany, famous for a certain tower, but is home to many other beautiful things, as well. Situated on the River Arno, Pisa is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Synonymous for the Leaning Tower, Pisa is actually one of the most important historic and artistic places in Italy. It has its very own "Field of Dreams" - the Campo dei Miracoli; okay, so literally "field of miracles." Here you'll find not only the noted inclined monument, but the beautifuly baptistry and the wedding cake-like cathedral, all clustered in a row on a grassy field. This is where tired tourists and sun-seeking university students relax and hang out, laying on the cool grass.
A Glorious Past
From the 9th century, Pisa began began expanding its maritime vocation, fighting against the Muslims, and eventually becoming a powerful Maritime Republic that rivaled the likes of Genoa, Venice and Amalfi. It participated actively in the crusades, positioning economic advantages from the kings of Jerusalem. During the 12th century, Pisa had a very busy mercantile trade that extended all over the Mediterranean Sea, with strong bases in Cyprus, Syria, Turkey and Egypt, while managing to maintain good relationships with the Muslims and removing the competition with Amalfi. The decline began at the end of 13th century when the city was defeated by the brilliant tactics of the Genovese fleet in the dramatic naval Battle of Meloria. This defeat effectively ended the maritime power of Pisa and the city never fully recovered. In a sad epoch, the Porto Pisano (Pisa's shipping port) was destroyed forever in 1290 and covered with salt by the Genovese. Pisa submitted to Florence after a long and bloody war, in 1509.
That Famous Leaning Tower
The Leaning Tower is surely the symbol of this city, and the reason many people flock here. The structural oddity was started in 1277 and thanks to a foundational defect started to lean even before it was completed. Despite this -or maybe because of it- the tower gained unlikely fame. Despite its precipitous position, it still stands -maybe that's the real reason this is called the field of miracles! You can climb the tower by advance reservations only; book early because there are limited entries each day.
Pisa Beyond The Tower
While the tower draws people in, the other sights of this lovely city will win them over! It has an historic center with medieval atmosphere, great restaurants, fun bars, and nice museums. It is a lively university town, adding a hip vibe and energy to the mix.
The Duomo was built between the 12th and 13th centuries and has a gloriously decorative Romanesque facade with arches, columns and loggias adorning it. Inside are masterpieces by Giambologna, Andrea del Sarto and others, along with an elaborately carved pulpit by Giovanni Pisano. The beautiful baptistry next door has an enormous central fount surmounted by a soaring dome. It also has perfect acoustics and if you're lucky you'll get to hear one of the friars sing to demonstrate the heavenly sounds the structure emits in song.
The Camposanto Monumentale is an art museum in a monumental building filled with amazing works. The Church of Santa Maria della Chiesa, built in the 13th century on the banks of the Arno, is a masterpiece of Roman-Gothic art. At one point it was completely dismantled and rebuilt to save it from the encroaching water. It is decorated with arches, pinnacles and spires, and has fantastic sculptures by Pisano inside. The Palazzo dell'Orologio was created by Vasari in 1607 to unite two pre-existing buildings.
A unique archeology museum shows off ancient boats that were found recently when a railroad line was being constructed. They were near the ancient seaport and the site is an open-air museum with a path through the excavations and artifacts. Walk along the Arno River promenade, lined with pastel palazzi. Explore the lanes of the historic center, enjoy drinks at one of the city's hip bars, and taste those Tuscan specialties in one of the many restaurants. The vegetable market is a colorful sight, still taking place in the Logge dei Banchi, as it has for centuries. Take pictures from the Ponte del Mezzo - the "middle bridge"- giving nice views.
Piazza delle Vettovaglie is an intimate square outlined in arcades with sidewalk cafes, while Corso Italia is the main shopping street. The National Museum of Palazzo Reale is a high-class art gallery housed in a former Medici palace.
Eat and Drink
The Pisan cuisine offers specialties of both land and sea. Try the regional “bavettine sul pesce” (special flattened spaghetti, seasoned with a lovely fish sauce), or zuppa di cozze (mussel soup) served on slices of Tuscan bread. Meat lovers will easily find succulent dishes like pheasant, boar, rabbit and duck (along with "ordinary" pork and beef, of course. To wash it down the best local wines are: Chianti delle Colline Pisane, Montescudaio and Montecarlo.
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Explore nearby towns
San Giuliano Terme is an important village-spa near Pisa, rich in architectural monuments and next to a vast nature reserve.
Located north of Pisa, Vecchiano sits on the banks of the Serchio River near the Mediterranean Sea.
At the foot of Monti Pisani near the famous city of Pisa is the small town of Calci.