Although when the traveller hears the name of Pisa, the first thing that comes to mind is the image of its famous leaning tower, this city has so much more to offer. Pisa was already considered an ancient town by the Romans and even though it is known that its beginnings date back to centuries before the birth of Christ, the truth is that nobody knows for sure which civilization first settled in this small region of modern-day Tuscany.
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Pisa is one of the oldest cities in Italy. Don’t stay alone in the leaning tower and let yourself be enchanted by the rest of the magic of Pisa.
Pisa became – together with Venice, Genoa and Ragusa – one of the powerful Italian Maritime Republics, reaching the zenith of its power in the 11th century and beginning its decline in the 13th.
As a result of its more than 2,400 years of history, its streets hide a great many beautiful and historical corners.
It is good that you take the typical picture holding the Leaning Tower, but do not stop there and follow our advice on the best places to visit in Pisa:
- Leaning Tower of Pisa
- Pisa Cathedral (Duomo di Pisa)
- Baptistery of Pisa (Battistero di Pisa)
- Church of Santa Maria della Spina
- Ponte del Medio (Ponte di Mezzo)
- Museo delle Sinopie (Sinopie Museum)
- Piazza dei Cavalieri
- National Museum of San Mateo
- Blue Building (Palazzo Blu)
- Streets of the historical centre of Pisa (Santa Maria district)
Leaning Tower of Pisa
There is no other tower in the world as emblematic as the Tower of Pisa.
Little could its builders have imagined, back in the 12th century, that their little capacity as architects would give rise to the most famous monument to visit in Pisa, and one of the most important in all Italy. Because the inclination of the tower is due to a bad foundation. The ground on one side was too soft and the whole structure overcame it.
The Leaning Tower of Pisa is actually a bell tower annexed to the Cathedral of Pisa. In terms of numbers: it measures 55.86 metres at its lowest and 56.67 metres at its highest point, it has 7 floors and 296 steps (294 on its north side), and lives with a 3.99 degree slope (it was 5.5 before its deep restoration, carried out between 1990 and 2001).
Diotisalvi was the architect who designed it and led the work until his death, but the work would take 200 years to complete.
If you do not want to miss the best monument to see in Pisa, we advise you to book your tickets in advance as in high season queues can be up to 3 hours long.
Visiting hours to the Leaning Tower of Pisa: from June to August from 8.30 am to 10 pm (last climb to the tower); in April, May and September from 9 am to 8 pm; in March from 9 am to 6 pm; in October from 9 am to 7 pm; in November and February from 9.40 am to 5.40 pm; and in December and January from 10 am to 5 pm.
Entrance fee to the Leaning Tower of Pisa: 18 euros.
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Pisa Cathedral (Duomo di Pisa)
The best monuments to see in Pisa are gathered in Piazza dei Miracoli.
The Leaning Tower, the Cathedral of Pisa (Duomo di Pisa) and the Baptistery (Battistero) are surrounded by green grass.
The construction of the cathedral started in 1064 and it was consecrated in 1118. Two architects were involved in the process: Buscheto and Rainaldo. The façade is decorated with black and white stripes, with an Arab touch.
Inside the cathedral, a central nave is flanked by two rows of granite columns brought from the island of Elba. On the roof, woods have covered the original plastered structure since the 17th century. 14th century mosaics and other rich ornaments complete the attractions of the Cathedral of Pisa.
Inside, there is also the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo (Museum of the Duomo Opera) where a good number of ancient liturgical objects, paintings and sculptures from different centuries are on display.
Baptistery of Pisa (Battistero di Pisa)
The third monument to visit in Pisa when walking around Piazza dei Miracoli is the Baptistery.
With its almost 55 metres high and 34 metres in diameter, it is the largest baptistery in Italy and a clear example of the transition from Romanesque to Gothic. It was built, in marble, between 1152 and 1363 and designed by Diotisalvi, replacing an earlier baptistery.
In its circular interior with high ceilings, there is not much ornamentation and the 13th century baptismal font and octagonal shape stand out.
And if you thought that the Leaning Tower of Pisa would be the only sloping construction to see in Pisa you are wrong because the baptistery was built on the same type of land as the tower and has a slope of 0.6 degrees. Every day two of the three buildings in the square fall down!
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Church of Santa Maria della Spina
But not all the interesting things to visit in Pisa can be found in Piazza dei Miracoli.
The church of Santa Maria della Spina is located on the banks of the Arno river which, after passing through beautiful Florence, flows into Pisa.
It was founded in 1230 with the name of Santa Maria del Ponte Nuovo. The truth is that it is a rather small church and this is thanks to the contrast with the great cathedrals typical of Italy. Inside the church you will not find an overdone style either. It is a simple space with walls divided by two-color stripes.
The statues of the Madonna and Child, St. John the Baptist and St. Peter, by Nino and Andrea Pisano, are located on the high altar.
A good place to visit in Pisa if you go for a walk along the river.
Ponte del Medio (Ponte di Mezzo)
Walking along the banks of the Arno River is the first among the relaxing things to do in Pisa. Especially in the early morning or late afternoon, when everything is quiet and you can immerse yourself in the magic of this city that is older than the myths about it.
In this walk you can alternate both banks and one of the best places to cross the river is the Ponte di Mezzo (Middle Bridge).
More than the bridge itself, which was built in the mid-twentieth century, what is striking is the set of coloured facades of old houses that overlook it.
It is the most photogenic point in Pisa after Piazza dei Miracoli.
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Museo delle Sinopie (Sinopie Museum)
If you are a lover of art and history, a visit to the Museo delle Sinopie should be on your list of things to do in Pisa.
It is a really curious and unique museum in the world. The Sinopie are drawings made on paper or parchment and have survived until our times since the Middle Ages. It is like the step before the fresco and an art of which it is extremely rare to find evidence. The name ‘sinopia’ comes from the red pigment that is mixed with water and applied with a brush to the canvas.
This is how the first painters decided to tell the stories of the Old and New Testament. You can see works by Bonamico Buffamalco, Taddeo Gaddi and Pietro di Puccio da Orvieto.
Don’t miss what is the largest collection of medieval drawings in the world.
Piazza dei Cavalieri
The second most important square to see in Pisa is Piazza dei Cavalieri.
This square was the centre of Pisa’s political activity during the medieval times. Since the mid 16th century it was the seat of the Order of Knights of St. Stephen. Today it is known for housing the Scuola Normale Superiore, which is located in the Palazzo della Carovana, the most beautiful building overlooking the square.
The Palazzo dell’Orologio and the statue of Grand Duke Cosimo I, founder of the Order of the Knights of St. Stephen, are other attractions of the square.
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National Museum of San Mateo
This museum is the most important painting and sculpture museum to visit in Pisa and is located in the little square of San Matteo in Soarta.
The headquarters is a medieval convent in Romanesque style so the visit to the building itself is worthwhile. Inside you can admire the works of the main Pisan and Tuscan masters between the 12th and 17th centuries as well as archaeological remains and ceramic works. It is one of the most important museums of medieval art in Europe.
Blue Building (Palazzo Blu)
In the heart of the historical centre of Pisa, a short distance from the Ponte di Mezzo and Palazzo Gambacorti, stands this blue building (hence the name) entirely dedicated to culture.
Palazzo Blu houses a temporary exhibition hall, a modern auditorium, a permanent art exhibition (divided into three sections: the art collection of the Fondazione Pisa, the aristocratic legacy and the Simoneschi Collection) and a new section dedicated to archaeology and medieval history.
Stay in the centre of Pisa at a good price.
Streets of the historical centre of Pisa (Santa Maria district)
Finally, one of the best things to do in Pisa is to wander the streets of its historical centre.
The Santa Maria quarter is located in the part of the city called Tramontana. Here you can visit the most important monuments to see in Pisa (Leaning Tower, the Cathedral and Piazza dei Cavalieri) but it is also the centre of the University of Pisa, the Scuola Normale Superiore and the University Hospital Santa Clara.
Some of the other remarkable monuments you can see in Santa Maria are: the Torre Guelfa (a large red brick tower dating back to the times of the Maritime Republic), the church of San Vito (it was erected on the spot where the city’s patron saint died in 1161) or Piazza Carrara and Piazza Garibaldi.
However, the best thing to do is to simply stroll through the medieval network of narrow streets that hide old shops and have a drink in the small bars underneath the houses.
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