Pisa Guide: Everything You Need to Know about One of Italy's Most Underrated Cities
Pisa is so much more than the Leaning Tower of Pisa. While you could hit Pisa's highlights in a day, why not discover all that this multi-faceted city has to offer. Did you know Pisa has a boardwalk and a beach? This guide includes restaurants, hotels, and activities that will give you a good start on your visit to this iconic Tuscan town.
Rich in charm -not to mention history, you can experience a lot of Pisa over a night or two in, the city. Easily accessible by train from Florence in Tuscany and Genoa in Liguria. And Pisa's international airport services many U.S. airline partners in Europe.
A little bit of history
Pisa was an important naval port of the Roman Empire dating back to 180 B.C. After the empire's collapse, the city, its prominent ocean position, and rivers inland fell into many hands. It wasn't until the 11th century that Tuscany gained control and reestablished grand economic activity from the port. The port was used for the movement and trade of various merchandise through the Mediterranean and beyond. During the Crusades, Pisa attracted many visitors who required goods and services, making many local merchants wealthy.
To show its wealth, Pisa constructed the grand complex (known to locals as Cathedral Square) as most medieval cities did consisting of a Catherdral, Baptistery, and Tower in the 12th century. Actually, the Leaning Tower took 200 years to complete. Not completed until 1372, it was already leaning at the time. Unlike other religious complexes in Italy, Pisa's also has a beautifully designed Camposanto Monument (cemetery/mausoleum)
It wasn't until the 15th century that the Arno river composition changed causing the transporting of goods from the seaport impossible. Today there is still the Pisa Port and Marina. The United States has an Army base nearby.
After the city fell to Florence in 1406, the Medici court encouraged great artistic, literary and scientific endeavors and re-established Pisa’s university, where the city’s most famous son, Galileo Galilei taught in the late 16th century.
Grand Hotel Duomo Pisa
Via Santa Maria, 94
The RIF Boutique Hotel
Address: Via Andrea Pisano 23
Address: Piazza Dante Alighieri, 4
Open: Tuesday-Saturday 7-11PM
Address: Via dei Mille, 3
Open: Daily Noon-3:30PM, 7-10:30PM
Tower Sky Lounge (reservation only)
Address: Via Santa Maria, 94
Panorama Rooftop Bar
Address: Via Santa Maria, 94
Open Daily 6:30-10:30PM
Piazza dei Miracoli - Catherdal Complex. One of the finest architectural complexes in the world. While the Leaning tower attracts all the tourists trying to capture a photo of loved ones holding up the tower, the complex offers so much more. The DellaRoman Catholic cathedral (Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta) dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, is a notable example of Romanesque architecture, in particular the style known as Pisan Romanesque. It is the seat of the Archbishop of Pisa. The Baptistery was the second building in the complex to be completed. Then the Camposanto and the Campanile - famously known as the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
So much to take in, this complex is best explored with a guide who can also arrange skip-the-line tickets to all the buildings.
Santa Maria della Spina - Erected around 1230 in the Pisan Gothic style, and enlarged after 1325, was originally known as Santa Maria di Pontenovo for the newer bridge that existed nearby, that collapsed in the 15th century, and was never rebuilt. The church was literally built on the river wall. The name of della Spina (“of the thorn”) derives from the presence of a thorn, putatively part of the crown of thorns placed on Christ during his Passion and Crucifixion. The relic was brought to this church in 1333.
Address: Via Lungarno Gambacorti
Piazza dei Cavalieri (Knights’ Square) is a landmark in Pisa, and the second main square of the city. This square was the political center in medieval Pisa. After the middle of 16th century, the square became the headquarters of the Order of the Knights of St. Stephen.
Address: Piazza dei Cavalierii
Worth the effort
Take a taxi from Pisa to Marina di Pisa. It's a great little beach town where you can wander around the peaceful streets completely uninterrupted, feast on delicious seafood for a fraction of the price you’d pay in the city, and where the coastline stretches as far as the eye can see. The trip from Pisa to Marina di Pisa is about 12 kilometers or 7 miles and costs around 35 Euros.
June 16th and 17th - Festa di Saint Ranieri (the patron saint of Pisa), held on 17th June. The night before is celebrated with "La Luminara" when the Tuscan city is illuminated by one hundred thousand votive candles placed on the façades of the buildings along the river Arno. Everyone lines up along the riverwalk to witness spectacular synchronized fireworks that are displayed from several positions along the river. Enjoy a myriad of Pisan street food from the trucks that line the street.
On June 17th, a historical procession takes place along the Arno river before the Regatta dedicated to Saint Ranieri. For the regatta -four crews, distinguished by different colors, representing the districts of the historical center of Pisa: San Francesco, San Martino, Santa Maria, and Sant'Antonio, row upstream along a 1500-meter-long distance to win the “paliotto” of victory. The winner isn't declared until a team climbs up the 10 meter high pole at the finish line and collects the flag. This flag is highly symbolic to the Pisans, as it is inspired by the battle of Lepanto in 1571 when the Christian troops seized the Muslims’ combat flag.
June - the last weekend - "Gioco del Ponte” - the Battle of the Bridge is usually held on the last Saturday of June and a historical military procession with hundreds of people dressed in period costumes takes place before the battle on the bridge Ponte di Mezzo on the Arno River.
Let me know if you have been to Pisa before by posting your thoughts in the Comment section below.