Pisa Tourist Attractions
Top Tourist Attractions in Pisa
SituationPisa, chief town of its province, lies on the Arno in the northern coastal region of Tuscany. In Roman times it was a considerable port, but as a result of the silting-up of the mouth of the Arno it now lies fully 10km/6mi inland.
HistoryIn all probability Pisa was originally a Greek foundation of the seventh or sixth century B.C. The town, which then lay on the coast, was equipped by the Romans with a harbor which became of great military and commercial importance. In medieval times Pisa was able to maintain its importance as a port in spite of Saracen raids; and the defeat of the Saracens by Pisan and Norman forces at Messina and Palermo in 1063 marked the beginning of Pisa's rise to become mistress of the western Mediterranean. The cathedral was built in thanksgiving for these brilliant victories. The Pisans took part in the first Crusade with a large fleet and brought back huge quantities of booty. Commerce and industry flourished, and architects, sculptors and painters created works famed throughout Europe.Towards the end of the 11th century Pisa became the first town in central and southern Italy to be governed by the townspeople themselves, political authority being exercised by a Council of Twelve. Pisa took the Ghibelline (Imperial) side in the conflict between the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa with the grant of extensive lands in the coastal area between the present-day towns of Portovénere and Civitavecchia. But Pisa had constantly to be prepared to defend itself against attack by its rivals - the land powers Lucca and Florence, the maritime republics of Amalfi and Genoa.At the peak of its power the Republic of Pisa was mistress of the Near East, Greece, North Africa, Sicily, Sardinia and the Balearics; but on August sixth 1284 it suffered an annihilating defeat at the hands of the Genoese in the naval Battle of Meloria and thereafter ceased to exist as a Great Power. Democratic rule alternated with dictatorship; the city was compelled to give up its possessions and its profitable trading activities; for a time it was held by the Visconti family of Milan, and in 1406 was captured by Florence. The Médici who now ruled Pisa took a keen interest in the town, promoting great engineering projects like the regulation of the rivers Arno and Serchio and the construction of bridges and canals. The destinies of Pisa were now increasingly bound up with those of Florence. During the Second World War Pisa suffered considerable damage in Allied air raids, now long since made good.Pisa is the birthplace of the mathematical and scientific genius Galileo Galilei (1564-1642).
The Campo dei Miracoli (Piazza del Duomo) contains Pisa's most notable attractions. Located here are the famouse Leaning Tower, Cathedral, Baptistery, and the Campo Santo.
The Palazzo dei Cavalieri is an imposing structure in the Piazza dei Cavalieri. It is today home to the college of Scuola Normale Superiore, founded by Napoleon.
San Michele in Borgo
The little Church of San Michele, on the north (right) bank of the Arno, was built at some time before 990, perhaps on the site of a Roman Temple of Mars. Rebuilding in the 14th century gave it a facade (by Fra Agnelli) which shows the transition from Romanesque to Gothic. The church suffered heavy damage from air raids in 1944, and during rebuilding and restoration work a 13th century fresco of St Michael was brought to light over the left-hand doorway.
St Peter in Chains
A little way southeast of San Michele in Borgo, near the Lungarno Mediceo, stands the Church of San Pierino or San Pietro in Vinculis (St Peter in Chains), built between 1072 and 1119. Notable features of this aisled church are the facade with its two orders of arcading and, in the interior, a 14th century "Annunciation" over the doorway and a 13th century Crucifix behind the high altar. The crypt extends under the whole area of the church. The campanile, originally a tower belonging to an earlier complex of buildings, is older than the church.
The origins of the Palazzo Médici, at the east end of the old town of Pisa, go back beyond the period of Médici rule. This imposing palazzo, now the Prefecture, was originally built in the 13th century and was altered in the 14th, when the Appiano family ruled Pisa. Later it became the residence of Lorenzo the Magnificent. The ground floor has pillared arcading; the windows on the facade are double-arched and triple-arched.
The Benedictine Convent of San Matteo (dissolved 1866) now houses the Museo Nazionale (National Museum). The main part of the collection centers on sculpture and pictures of the Tuscan schools from the 12th century to the 15th century. Of particular interest are the sculptures from various churches in Pisa, brought here to preserve them from increasing environmental pollution and replaced by copies in their original positions. The statues by Giovanni Pisano come from the baptistery, the famous "Madonna del Latte" (c. 1340) from the Church of Santa Maria della Spina. Painting is represented by a number of 12th and 13th century crucifixes, panel-paintings by Simone Martini, Giovanni di Nicola, Benozzo Gozzoli and others, and examples of book illumination.
There is evidence of the foundation of a small Franciscan church on this site, to the north of the Palazzo Médici, in the year 1211: that is during the lifetime of St Francis. The present aisleless church, however, dates from 1265 to 1270 and was probably the work of Giovanni di Simone; the facade was completed in 1603. Numerous grave-slabs, some of them bearing coats of arms, are let into the floor. The second chapel on the right contains the remains, deposited here in 1922, of Count Ugolino della Gherardesca and his sons, who were starved to death in the Palazzo dell'Orológico. The church also contains a number of pictures, including some depicting scenes from the legend of St Francis, and a marble polyptych by Tommaso Pisano (14th century) the "Virgin and Child with Saints".
This church, to the northeast of the central area of the town, was built for the Dominicans between 1251 and 1300 on the site of an earlier building. The Pisan-style façade with its rose- window and dwarf gallery was added about 1330, the beautiful campanile (by Giovanni di Simone) still later. Damage caused by a fire in 1651 was rather clumsily made good. The church contains a marble "Annunciation" by Nino Pisano (c. 1330) with traces of its original coloring.
Along each bank of the Arno extends a busy riverside street (Lungarno), under various names.
The little Romanesque Church of San Zeno, at the northeastern corner of the old town, is one of Pisa's oldest churches, built by Benedictines between 1100 and 1180. It has a fine tufa facade decorated with arcading and preceded by a portico. Some of the columns separating the nave from the aisles have Roman capitals.
The 14th century Palazzo Gambacorti, now the Town Hall (Município), stands on the south (left) bank of the Arno in the center of the old town of Pisa. The façade, decorated with coats of arms, has double Gothic windows on the upper floors. Its one-time owner Pietro Gambacorti, then the ruler of Pisa, was murdered here by conspirators in 1393.
Logge di Banchi
Facing the Palazzo Gambacorti, to the southeast, can be seen the Logge di Banchi, a grandiose loggia built in 1603-05 to house the cloth-market. The upper floor, which was added later, contains part of the State Archives. From the Ponte di Mezzo, which spans the Arno here, there are views of the lungarni, the streets running along the banks of the river.
Santa Maria della Spina
The Church of Santa Maria della Spina, on the left bank of the Arno to the west of the Palazzo Gambacorti, is perhaps the best known of the smaller churches of Pisa. In its original position close to the river it suffered severe damage to its foundations, and in 1871 it was pulled down stone by stone and rebuilt higher up. Originally a small oratory, it was rebuilt in the Gothic period as a richly decorated church. It owes its name to its possession of a thorn (spina) from Christ's crown of thorns, brought to Pisa from the Holy Land.The west front is surmounted by three gables and has two doorways, with small rose-windows in the gables above. In the center is a baldachin with a statue of the Virgin and Child with Saints by G. di Balduccio. The south side of the church has a series of arches enclosing doorways and multiple windows and, higher up, an aedicule (niche) with figures of Christ and the Apostles. The building is crowned by tabernacles containing statues, some of them now replaced by copies (originals in the Museo Nazionale): for example, the "Virgin and Child" by Nino Pisano and the figures of Apostles by pupils of Giovanni Pisano. The famous "Madonna del Latte" inside the church is also a replica.
Address: Lungarno Gambacorti, I-56100 Pisa, Italy
Opening hours: Mar 1 to Oct 31: 10am-1:30pm, 2:30pm-6pm; Sun: 10am-1:30pm, 2:30pm-7pm; Sat: 10am-1:30pm, 2:30pm-7pm; Closed: Mon
Entrance fee in EUR: Adult €1.50, Group discounts €1.00, Senior FREE, Child 10 & under FREE
Disability Access: Full facilities for persons with disabilities.
San Paolo a Ripa d'Arno
The Church of San Paolo, in the southwest of the old town near the south bank of the Arno, was founded in 805 but was altered and enlarged in the 11th and 12th centuries. It was clearly influenced by the cathedral, as can be seen, for example, in the façade, which has all the characteristics of Pisan Romanesque, with its round-arched doorways and dwarf galleries. An aisled basilica, the church contains the tomb of the 12th century scholar Burgundio, with a reused Roman sarcophagus. There is another Roman sarcophagus built into the wall above the doorway in the left transept. To the east of the church is the little Romanesque Oratory of Sant'Agata (12th century).
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