An unexpected treasure is discovering that Pisa is a town that hides many gems behind the world-renowned Leaning Tower. It is so much more!

Even the most casual tourist visiting Italy knows that Pisa is worth a stop. The city is home to one of the world's most celebrated piazzas- the Piazza del Duomo, otherwise known as Piazza dei Miracoli. There is no doubt that the wonderful complex – the infamous Leaning Tower, Duomo and Baptistery placed with geometrical precision on a velvety lawn - deserves the title of “miracle”, but it's a pity that a hurried visit to just that one spot keeps many tourists from discovering the many other interesting sights Pisa has to offer.

On the northern side of the piazza, set against the ancient walls,the monumental cemetery is decorated with Gothic frescoes and sarcophagi of rare beauty. Five hundred meters from the “miraculous” piazza, you'll find the nearby Piazza dell'Arcivescovado, where you will turn into a charming medieval street unknown to most tourists. It is Via della Faggiola, lined with ancient residences and elegant buildings. A few steps and you will reach one of the city's most spectacular piazzas- Piazza dei Cavalieri. The buildings, commissioned by the Grand Duke Cosimo I (1519-1574), were used as headquarters of the Sacred and Military order of the Knights of Stephen, founded to protect the Mediterranean coasts (hence the name, Piazza dei Cavalieri (knights). The piazza was designed by Vasari who also designed the Uffizi Gallery in Florence for Cosimo I.

Among the piazza's artistic marvels, the imposing façade of Palazzo dei Cavalieri is home to the prestigious Scuola Normale Superiore (set up, officially, by Napoleonic decree, on October 18th 1810, and still a training and public research center today). To the palazzo's right, stands the Church of the Knights of St Stefano in which, on the second Sunday of November (10.30 am), the Solemn Mass of the Order takes place. The Order is currently made up of 80 knights (whose Gran Maestro has been, since 1994, Sigismondo d'Asburgo-Lorena, descendant of the Tuscan grand-ducal family and currently living in Scotland).

On the opposite side, stands Palazzo dell'Orologio, the tower made famous by Dante in which Count Ugolino della Gherardesca and his three children were imprisoned and starved to death.Then you can take Via Ulisse Dini that opens onto Piazza St Felice. From there, turn into Borgo Stretto, a very charming street with arcades and cafes, and the city's major arterial route that leads to the lungarni, riverside streets, exactly between Lungarno Pacinotti and Lungarno Mediceo.

Here, the most interesting sights are right before your eyes. Pisa is compact. If you turn your head left, on the opposite bank, you will see something truly unique- the small Church of St Maria della Spina, a carved marble jewelry box of Italian Gothic style, decorated with niches that hold statues made by the greatest artists of the time and topped by spires and pinnacles. Turning your eyes to the right (on the other side of the Arno river), you can see the ornate red façade of Palazzo Lanfranchi, which houses the Museum of Graphic Arts and interesting temporary exhibitions throughout the year.

Other must-sees:

  • the mural Tuttomondo by Keith Haring, the last public work by the artist from New York, painted in 1989 on the wall of the convent of St Antonio (in Piazza St Antonio).
  • The Botanical Garden (Via Luca Ghini, 5). Established in 1544, it is the world's oldest botanical garden. It is open from 8.30 am to 1 pm, from Monday to Saturday. Access allowed up to half an hour before closing time.

Not everybody knows that...some Pisa Trivia:

  • On the side of the Duomo facing the monumental cemetery, on the façade's sixth pillar, there is a series of holes known as the devil's fingers. According to legend, every time you count them, you obtain a different number.
  • The Jewish Cemetery of Pisa, testimony to the Jewish community of Pisa, is one of the world's most ancient cemeteries. There are inscriptions dating back to 1274.
  • Giacomo Leopardi spent nearly a year in Pisa (from 1827 to 1828) as guest of the Soderini family. The poet, who was going through a very difficult time, felt his inspiration flowing back to him in Pisa and wrote some of his most beautiful poems: “A Silvia” and “Il Risorgimento” here. He stayed in Via della Faggiola, the street mentioned above.
  • Piazza dei Miracoli is the name given to Pisa's Piazza del Duomo by Gabriele D'Annunzio in the novel “Forse che sì, forse che no” of 1910, and commonly used from then on.

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