Things to do in Pisa
Pisa was our first ever taste of Italy, a sensational country full of great history and architecture, there are plenty of things to do in Pisa. Pisa is a great city to start an Italian adventure. The city is snugly tucked in the North West of the country, making it easily accessible to Milan, Venice, Genoa, Florence and Rome. All cities are conveniently stationed on the line of one of the best railway systems in the world.
The Galileo Galilei Airport sets the standard pretty high and it is probably one of the most beautiful airports we’ve ever seen.
The buildings in Pisa are generally low in height which allows unspoiled views of the spectacular sunsets of Europe. Catch a perfect moment over the glistening Arno river.
The history of Pisa
To begin an appreciation of Pisa, it is important to understand the city’s rich history. Once The Republic of Pisa, the city was an independent state during the late 10th and 11th centuries. The city became one of the most powerful in the country with a booming economy boosted by merchant trade in the Mediterranean, and within Italy itself.
Pisa was the country’s economic leader for over a century before being superseded by the neighboring Republic of Genoa. Pisa acquired traditional fame as one of the four main historical Maritime Republics of Italy. This meant from the 10th to the 13th centuries, the maritime republics would build fleets of protective ships to allow extensive trading networks across the Mediterranean. This action gave Pisa an essential role in the Crusades.
The population of Pisa is roughly 90,000 and many people visit the Tuscan city with the intention of seeing one building. There are many other architectural marvels across the city, here’s our derived list of the top things to do in Pisa.
Piazza dei Miracoli
Let’s start with the Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles) which is an important collection of buildings representing European Medieval art. The square is often referred to as one of the finest architectural complexes in the world.
The area, where the leaning tower can also be found, is a true reflection of dominance, wealth and power that Pisa once had back in the middle ages. It is ironic that some of the most beautiful historical buildings in the world are built on unsteady sand, causing some of the structures in the complex to lean slightly away from their original design.
The Pisa Baptistery of St. John has been standing in the square since 1363 and it is the largest baptistery in Italy at 54.86m high. The Baptistery leans 0.6 degrees toward the Pisa Cathedral.
At the heart of the Piazza dei Miracoli, the medieval Pisa Cathedral stands. The building is a visible testimony of the material wealth achieved by the Republic of Pisa at the height of its power.
One of the Pisa’s traditions was to have two New Year celebrations, one on the regular 31st December and one on 25th March. It was custom between the 10th century and 1749 to hold a secondary New Year during the Spring equinox in March, where the newer New Year’s Day coincided with the Feast of the Annunciation, precisely nine months before Christmas Day (Anno Pisano ab Incarnatione Domini).
Currently on the 25th March, people gather by the Pisa Cathedral for the natural phenomena that occurs at midday. A sharp ray of sunlight penetrates the building through a rounded window. and the light lands perfectly on a marble egg, which is a symbol of birth and new life. The egg is situated on a shelf that surmounts a column beside the pulpit of Giovanni Pisano.
In 1750, the first official day of the new year was changed to January 1st, but the March celebrations continue every year and are accompanied by solemn religious and civic celebrations.
Another beautiful structure in the Piazza dei Miracoli is the Fallen Angel statue created by Polish artist Igor Mitoraj. Though the Pisa Fallen Angel is part of a temporary exhibit, it demonstrates the square’s abilities to showpiece art work from contemporary artists across the world. This is regarded as one of the top things to do in Pisa.
The Capitoline Wolf statue in the square depicts a she-wolf suckling two human children, Romulus and Remus. The column was inspired by the legend of the founding of Rome.
The whole grounds of the Piazza dei Miracoli have been a protected UNESCO World Heritage site since 1987.
Piazza Martiri Della Libertá (Martyrs Square of Liberty)
The Piazza Martiri Della Libertáwas originally occupied by the monastery of San Lorenzo and it was rebuilt as a public area in 1833 by will of the Grand Duke of Tuscany. The square is a small rectangle with a maze of paths beside idyllic grassed areas. It makes a perfect city retreat. The statue of Pietro Leopoldo I marks the center of the square which was built in 1829 to honor Leopoldo (a Holy Roman Emperor).
Back in the early 1800s, the city of Pisa ran a competition where contestants could submit their ideas to plan out the design of a new public square. In 1817, Thomas Poschi emerged victorious and his project was slowly implemented after many years by growing a double layered wall of trees eventually depicting an oval. The trees still stand today making the area secluded and relaxing.
During the middle ages, the Martyrs Square of Liberty was known as civitate vetera because of the amount of Roman ruins that were scattered around. Some of the ruins can still be seen today. On the Western side of the square, the ex Santa Anna convent can be found which is a fine example of Medieval architecture. The building is currently occupied by the Scuola Superiore di Perfezionamento along with the 13th century Church of Santa Caterina.
On the Eastern side of the square, the Compagnia del Crocioneoratory can be seen. The building was suppressed in 1782 and is now an auditorium and theater.
We can’t recommend this area enough if you want to escape the crowds of tourists at the Campo dei Miracoli . Relaxing here is one of the top things to do in Pisa.
Wander and Eat
Wandering the city and eating your way through the masses of bistros and restaurants is one of the top things to do in Pisa. As well as the wonderful architecture, Pisa is notorious for its student population. The University of Pisa has around 60,000 registered students who make up around two-thirds of the city’s total population. The student flair can be felt all over the city with bars, restaurants and events all focusing on bringing them in.
The city of Pisa is very compact, it takes around a half hour to walk from the Campo dei Miracoli to the Pisa Centrale train station. The walk offers an interesting collection of monuments, shops, cafes and restaurants allowing visitors to experience the city’s authentic Pisan culture, food and architecture.
Pisa is situated beside the Arno river, enjoy a stroll by the Clock Palace that eventually leads to Piazza dei Cavalieri (Knight’s Square). Knight’s Square which was once the heart of power in the political history of the city and later the headquarters of the Knights of St. Stephen.
By taking a leisurely stroll around the city, you will find many authentic restaurants offering delicious Italian cuisine. A delicacy local to Pisa is Cecina, a gluten-free chickpea based bread flour mixed with water, oil, salt and black pepper, softly fried.
Enjoy the rich coloured buildings all over the city, true to Tuscan and Italian style mainly in shades of terracotta, golden honey, dark browns and sandstone.
If you have an interest in historical religious buildings, Pisa has a lot to offer, around every corner you will find a memorial or building and there are a few tour groups who will take you through each one.
When you’re walking streets lined with minimal story buildings, you never know what might pop up and surprise you!
Pisa is where we had our first ever taste of authentic Italian pizza, made in a traditional wood fire oven in a lovely little street pizzeria. If you are like us, and are also visiting Venice on your travel itinerary hoping for the same, the city put a ban on traditional wood fire ovens following a number of fires in restaurants. Italians say that the best pizza is made with a wood fired oven and a Pisan pizza certainly didn’t disappoint.
Giuseppe Mazzini’s house (Domus Mazziniana)
Giuseppe Mazzini, who died in his house in Pisa in 1872, was a well-respected patriot, politician and philosopher. His ideas and political action contributed to the Italian unitary state that saw the consolidation of the different states of the Italian peninsula into the single state of the Kingdom of Italy in the 19th century.
Visitors can enjoy the Giuseppe Mazzini memorial and also visit his house known now as Domus Mazziniana.
The Leaning Tower of Pisa
One of the top things to do in Pisa is to see the most famous landmark of them all. Though the city is famous for the Leaning Tower of Pisa, we can’t go without mentioning how fascinating it was to see in the flesh. The Torre pendente di Pisa was everything we thought it would be, iconic, beautiful and surrounded with posing tourists all standing oddly with their hands in the air!
Why does the Leaning Tower of Pisa lean?
The tower was built as the freestanding bell tower of the Pisa Cathedral in 1372. The infamous tilt of the tower started at the very beginning during initial construction. The ground beneath the tower is too soft on one side to properly support the structure’s weight. Gravity played the part in the tilt’s increase over the decades before the structure was finally completed. The tilt gradually increased until the structure was stabilized by efforts in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
Prior to the efforts of restoring the tower’s stance and reducing the leaning, between 1990 and 2001, the tower leaned at angle of 5.5 degrees. In the current day, the tower now leans at about 3.99 degrees.
Despite what visitors may believe, the tower isn’t the only leaning structure in the world, nor is it the furthest leaning. In June 2010, the Guinness World Records certified the Capital Gate building in Abu Dhabi, UAE as the “World’s Furthest Leaning Man-made Tower”.
Of course, we felt the obligation to be creative in front of the tower with our camera. Enjoy our many fun poses below.
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