Dear Traveller friends,
today I want to take you with me to one of the most renowned destinations for tourists in Italy. It’s famous all around the world for its Leaning Tower and, in Tuscany, is second in popularity only to the beautiful Florence.
I’m talking about Pisa, one of the four Maritime Republics, that ruled over the Mediterranean Sea for more three centuries (from the XI to the XIV century).
Thanks to the wealth deriving from trade and the spoils of war granted by Pisa’s maritime supremacy, this town was able to build several works of art still visible today.
Unfortunately, most organized tours limit the visit to the Leaning Tower and the Field of Miracles (Piazza or Campo dei Miracoli). However, Pisa isn’t just this. This town, in fact, has other points of interest that are worth a visit.
That’s why I want to show you a quick tour (not more than half a day) to better know this city and its historical importance.
Your tour starts from the railway station, Pisa Centrale, and ends to the Field of Miracles. You can cover the entire path on foot since Pisa’s historical centre isn’t very big. If at the end of the tour, you don’t feel like walking back to the railway station, you can take the red line of the LAM bus.
The first stop is near Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II, a big square just outside the railway station. What you are looking for isn’t the plaza itself or the statue dedicated to Vittorio Emanuele II. The attraction here is the mural “Tuttomondo” painted by the famous artist Keith Haring.
Take your time to admire the mural and take some pictures, then head along Corso Italia, one of the most lively and important commercial streets in town. Don’t let windowshopping distract you too much. You still have many things to see.
At the end of Corso Italia, you’ll meet the Arno river. Cross the bridge called Ponte di Mezzo, which grants you a beautiful view over the riversides and the impressive Renaissance palaces.
On the other side of the Arno river, you access Borgo Stretto, the central street of the town centre. This area, during the XI century, was the residence of Pisa’s aristocracy. Here ancient families built their imposing and sumptuous palaces.
Towards the end of Borgo Stretto, turn left in Via Ulisse Dini and reach Piazza dei Cavalieri. Here you can see several beautiful buildings, among which Palazzo della Carovana stands out. It hosts one of Italy’s most prominent universities, the Scuola Normale in Pisa.
Looking at this building, designed by Vasari, don’t forget to notice the details making the facade unique: the sculpted crests and busts and the beautiful decoration created by allegorical figures and zodiac signs.
Not far from Piazza dei Cavalieri you can visit the Church of St. Catherine. This church isn’t the most important in town, however, its beautiful stained glass windows representing the saints are worth a visit.
After a quick tour around the church, it’s time to get to the highlight of your visit—the Field of Miracles, UNESCO World Heritage.
Here you can visit six attraction:
- The Leaning Tower
- The Dome
- The Baptistery
- The Cemetery
- The Opera del Duomo Museum
- The Sinopie Museum
First of all, you have to get your entrance ticket. At the ticket office, you can purchase a ticket for one or more attractions. The more you decide to visit, the more you are going to save on the overall cost. You can visit the Dome for free, but you have to get a ticket for the entrance anyway.
The Leaning Tower deserves a separate explanation. The number of people allowed to climb the tower is limited. If you want to be sure to go up the tower, you’ll have to buy your ticket in advance (you can buy it up to a month before your visit). When you purchase the ticket, you’ll be required to set the time of your visit, which is not always easy to determine in advance. Here you find the link to the online ticket office.
After the tips about the ticket, it’s time to dive into the visit!
Even if there are traces of an early Etruscan settlement, the Field as we know it dates back to the year 1000. It’s the result of the immense wealth collected by Pisa when it became one of the four Maritime Republics.
Despite what you may think, the buildings around the Field weren’t erected at the same time. It took nearly three centuries to complete the entire complex.
The first building was the Dome. Outside it’s realized with marble in different colours, and its structure is an essential example of Pisan Romanesque style. The interior of the cathedral, instead, is decorated in a different style, more byzantine. The most impressive piece of decoration is the golden mosaic representing Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary and St John. However, there are several details you don’t want to miss, such as the elliptic dome decorated with frescoes, the pulpit, the floors, and the bright coffered ceiling.
Almost a century after the cathedral was started, authorities decided to add the Baptistery, the biggest in Italy. Its realization lasted for over three centuries, and its structure underwent several changes from the original design. The dome was the part which changed the most. At first, it was designed to be open on top, but then it was closed. Even if the interior of the Baptistery was never decorated due to lack of funds, there are some interesting elements and several symbolic references. Don’t forget to notice the floor, slightly sloping!
A few years after the works for the Baptistery started, the city decided to add a bell tower to the cathedral, now known as the Leaning Tower. What makes this tower unique is its displacement of 4 degrees from the vertical axis. The reason for this is in the underground, mainly composed of clay, that didn’t allow a perfect anchoring of the bell tower. Now, after a decade of consolidation activities, the tower is anchored to the ground. This will avoid a collapse that would have been inevitable with time.
The last building added to the complex was the Cemetery. Don’t be deceived by the exterior, nothing if compared to the facade of the cathedral. The interior with several works of art is worth all the time you can devote to it. Beside some monumental tombs, what’s really amazing are the several cycles of frescoes on the walls, depicting scenes from the Scriptures. The cycles are grand and elaborate, that’s why it’s essential to read the explanatory panels illustrating the scenes of the murals. The information will allow you to notice details that would be missed instead. Unfortunately, part of the frescoes isn’t preserved due to the bombing during World War II.
Inside the Sinopie Museum, you can admire the preparatory drawings for the frescoes.
The tour of the Field can conclude with the Opera del Duomo Museum. Here you can see works of religious art, paintings, and parts of the entire complex of the Field of Miracles which were brought here to preserve them.
Our brief but intense visit of Pisa is now concluded.
See you to our next destination, the Marble Quarries of Carrara.
Don’t miss it!