When Pisa is mentioned, everybody thinks about its tower,  but this impressive leaning bell tower it’s just one of the many monuments you can find in this nice Tuscan city. The beautiful Piazza del Duomo collects, in a unique architectural complex in the world, the so-called Campo dei  Miracoli (Miracles Square), the main religious monuments of the city: the Tower, the Cathedral, the Baptistery, and the Campo Santo (the graveyard).

Pisa, however, it’s not just about this square: it will be enough to move just a little to discover the artistic beauty that makes Pisa one of the most beautiful cities in Italy. Buildings, monuments, and museums keep alive the memory of a past time during which Pisa was the Maritime Republic and, for a long time, the undisputed master of the Mediterranean sea.

In addition, Pisa is still considered the Queen of studies, this title was assigned to Pisa from Florence, and is a very young, dynamic, and animated city. Here, then, are 10 things to do and see during a holiday or a weekend in Pisa.

The leaning tower of Pisa

Symbol of the city, thanks to its characteristic slope, this tower is the most famous monument of Piazza del Duomo and it was built between the XII and the XIV century. This tower leans because the ground gave during its early stage of construction, and since then it has remained in this way. Even if it could look scary, you don’t have to worry about it: the vertical axis, passing through its center of gravity, falls into the support base, so the tower will never fall down unless the laws of physics should be subverted.

We don’t have certain pieces of information about who built this tower, maybe it was the architect Diotisalvi, who in that period was working at the Baptistery. But even if there are several analogies between the two monuments the diatribe about the paternity of the tower is still open. The tower has been proposed as one of the seven wonders of the contemporary world.

How to get there: From the central station: shuttle bus A or the bus n°3
When – Hours: from March to October, every day from 9 am to 7 pm. From November to February every day from 9.30 am to 5 pm. From April to September every day from 8.30 am to 8.30 pm. From the 14th June to the 15th September you can make a night visit from 8.30 pm to 11 pm.
Tickets: 18 €

The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta in Pisa

The Cathedral of Pisa, dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta, is the most significant example of Pisa Romanesque art. The architect Buscheto joined the classical tradition with elements from the Norman, Byzantine, Pre-Christian and Arabic arts, creating a new style that anticipated the Florentine Renaissance.

The Cathedral of Pisa testifies the prestige that the Maritime Republic reached in its moment of maximum power. Its construction began in 1604, in the same date of the beginning of the works of the Basilica of San Marco in Venice; probably it rose a sort of silent competition between the two Republics for who was able to build the most beautiful and sumptuous worship place. The current aspect of the Cathedral is the result of continuous restoration works made in different epochs. During the IX century, some of the statues has been substituted with copies, the originals are now  in the Museum of Opera del Duomo

How to get there: From the central station: shuttle bus A or the bus n°3
When – Hours: Winter from 10 am to 12.45 pm and from 3 pm to 4.45 pm during weekdays; from 3 pm to 4.45 pm on Sundays and public holidays. In Autumn, Spring and Summer from 8 am to 8 pm
Tickets: 2 €

Pisa Baptistery

The Pisa Baptistery too forms the monumental complex of Piazza del Duomo (Cathedral square or Miracle’s square). Its construction began in 1153 thanks to the architect Diotisalvi, as an inscription inside an interior pillar testifies, but a lot of the sculptures on the façade have been made by Nicola Pisano and his son Giovanni.

Nicola Pisano made also the pulpit that represents scenes from Christ’s life and the subject that represents the virtues: all masterpieces testify how their creator has been one of the principal precursors of Renaissance art. The external dome covers only the first part of columns and probably the lack of money caused it. The dome, in fact,  is made of different materials (red shingles and lead plates); for the same reason, there are no frescoes on the ceiling, even if they were on the original plan. The Baptistery is the biggest monument in Italy.

How to get there: From the central station: shuttle bus A or the bus n°3
When – Hours: from November to February from 10 am to 4.30 pm. From March to October from 9 am to 6.30 pm
Never: 1st January and 25th December
Tickets: Full ticket 5 € and the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo is included

The monumental graveyard of Pisa

The last wonder of Campo dei Miracoli ( Miracles Square) is the monumental graveyard of Pisa, a sacred place. The crusaders brought there the saint-ground taken on the Golgotha mountain, just outside Jerusalem. There are buried the most important people of Pisa, and there can be found artworks from the Etruscan time passing through the Roman and Medieval era until the last century. Simple white marble walls guard the graves; the most important persons were buried into the garden or in the Roman sarcophagi, while the others was buried under the arcades.

In the XIX century, the Graveyard was restructured, the sarcophagi were moved under the arcades to protect them, so currently, everything is under them. The mix between the celebration of the history and the death made this Graveyard one of the most visited places during 1800 until the second world war bombardments caused serious damages to the frescoes. In 1945 started the renovation works and they are still in progress.

How to get there: From the central station: shuttle bus A or the bus n°3
When – Hours: from November to February from 10 am to 4,30 pm. From Match to October from 9 am to 6,30 pm
Never: 1st January and 25th December
Tickets: Full ticket 5 € and the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo is included

Banks of the Arno

Pisa is famous for Piazza dei Miracoli ( Miracles Square), but it is also known for its banks of the Arno: all the streets that go along the Arno are an important point of meeting for young people and reference’s point for the tourists. There are important buildings, dated back to the Middle age, that during the centuries have been transformed. Towers, bridges, and buildings, in spite of their actual Renaissance appearance, have a medieval soul, which can’t be ignored by the eye of an attentive tourist.

Among the great number of the banks of the Arno, the most famous is the Medicean one which hosts a great number of historical buildings, such as Palazzo dei Medici, Palazzo Toscanelli, and the church of Matteo in Soarta.  On the bank of the Arno Gambacorti, there’s a small gothic jewel, the church of Santa Maria della Spina. It took this name in 1333 when it hosted the relic of a spur from Christ’s crown (now exposed in the church of Santa Chiara). If you are in Pisa on 16th June, you cannot miss the illustrations of San Ranieri: the backs of the Arno are illuminated by candle lights enhancing the outlines of all buildings and creating a play of light and colors.

Piazza dei Cavalieri – Knights Square in Pisa

The hurried tourist, who leaves Pisa after the classic visit around the Campo dei Miracoli (Miracles Square) , misses this wonderful town square. Piazza dei Cavalieri owes its name to the presence of the headquarter of the Order of Knights of St. Stephen.  For centuries it has been the site of national civil power, even though today it’s above all a cultural and studies place thanks to the presence of the Scuola Normale of Pisa, housed in the Palace of the Caravan.

An extraordinary example of Renaissance architecture was designed by Giorgio Vasari, who decorated it with allegorical figures and zodiacal signs. Close to it there is the beautiful Palazzo dell’Orologio (Clock Palace), a medieval building in which it was built the Torre della Fame (tower of Starvation). In the Divine Comedy, Dante told the story that Count Ugolino della Gherardesca died in 1289, in that tower, with its children and grandchildren. The other buildings in the square are Canonica, il Palazzo del Consiglio dei Dodici, the church of Santo Stefano and the one of  San Rocco. The Church of Santo Stefano was built by Giorgio Vasari and inside there is the painting Stoning of Saint Stephen with the addition of the Birth of Christ by Bronzino. At the center of the square stands the statue of Cosimo I as a Grand Master of the Knights.

The Mural made by Keith Haring in Pisa

In 1989, passing through Pisa, Keith Haring left to the city an extraordinary work of art: the mural “Tuttomondo”, painted on the rear façade of the convent of the friars “Servi di  Maria” of the church of St. Anthony.

The church is located close to the station, in an urban context in which the artist used to express itself at the best. A few months later Haring would die and this mural is one of his last works. He had this idea in  New York after a casual meeting with a Pisan student with whom he talked about world peace. The characters inside the murals are 30, stuck like a puzzle, and each one represents one aspect of a world in peace: there are “humanized” scissors defeating the evil serpent that was eating the head of another figure.   Then there is motherhood, represented by the woman with the baby in her arms, nature with the two men supporting the dolphin, and so on. Haring used soft colors, as a form of respect for the beauty of Pisa. He worked on it for a week, with the intention of making a permanent work, in fact, he used the colors specially made by craftsmen of the Caparol Center, tempera and acrylic that could keep intact the quality of color for a long time. After 20 years “Tuttomondo” is still there to remind us the brief and intense life of this extraordinary artist.

Narrow Borgo and wide Borgo

If you pass through the old town center of Pisa probably you’ll pass through the narrow borgo (burg), or “the Borgo “, as people of Pisa use to call it. It’s the most typical street of the center, with its colonnades, the shops, the café. Along the way you can see buildings of the XIV and XV centuries that formed the nucleus of the ancient Pisa: here the noble families and merchants competed to build the most beautiful, tallest and colorful buildings. All that splendor can be seen so much today

Going along via delle Colonne you can arrive in Piazza Vettovaglie, a secular place of the food market, originally Piazza dei Porci. Once the arcades of Borgo Stretto are finished there is Piazza del Pozzetto (Borgo Largo) but first we suggest you to stop to see the wood tabernacle with inside a copy of Madonna dei Vetturini of Nino Pisano.

Pisa Foods

Gastronomy isn’t very popular because it isn’t very different from the Tuscany one, even if it’s more spiced and abundant. Anyway here the food has its own plates such as the frog soup, the white beans of San Michele soup and the bavettine (kind of pasta) on the fish. The fish is one of the main ingredients of these recipes: grilled grey mullet and cod recipes, boiled Mediterranean spider fish, sweet and sour cod are the most famous recipes. You can also taste the game, in particular pheasant meat, wild boar or wild rabbit.

It’s very known also the pesto pisano, different from the Genova pesto because it has pine kernels too. To complete your meal you can have a cake too, such as Torta co’ bischeri (the pastry pins that come out of the mold) , the most typical sweet and famous of  the Pisan gastronomy.

Where to Stay in Pisa

Pisa attracts about 1 million of different tourists: there are many foreigners, Italians who visit for a school weekend, many trips and even a good number of people who commute to the city to take advantage of the excellent local hospitals.

It’s therefore not easy to find a cheap room, especially in high season and during periods of school trips. We suggest, therefore, booking in advance especially if you want three stars midrange hotels in the tourist areas. Hotel prices in the center start from 80 € per night in a double room including breakfast. A good alternative is the hotels and cottages on the outskirts of Pisa.

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