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10 Tips for Visitors of Pisa: What to See Apart from the Famous Tower

City Lungarni illuminated with moonlight during annual festival
Photo taken by  City Lungarni illuminated with moonlight during annual festival

The city of Pisa is known worldwide for its leaning tower, visited by hundreds of thousands of tourists every year. Having spent a few hours in the Piazza dei Miracoli, or the Square of Miracles, they rush out to Florence, Rome or Venice. But why not stay here a little longer and visit not just the Tower of Pisa, but also the other, lesser-known, but very interesting objects? Here are several tips to make your stay in Pisa interesting and purposeful.

1. Don’t Forget the Other Objects in the Square of Miracles

Piazza dei Miracoli is a really special place – here you can find the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the construction of which began more than 800 years ago. But don’t forget that the square has many more interesting objects.

Piazza dei Miracoli complex with the leaning tower of Pisa
Photo taken by  Piazza dei Miracoli complex with the leaning tower of Pisa

The Romanesque-style Cathedral of Pisa is one of Tuscany’s most important and spectacular examples of Romanesque art. Furthermore, the cathedral used to symbolise the city’s wealth and power, obtained by virtue of it being a maritime city-state.

Right in front of the cathedral you’ll find the Battistero di San Giovanni Baptistery – the largest of its kind in Italy – which had began to be built way back in 1153. And finally – the Camposanto Monumentale. People say that the old cemetery of Pisa is a uniquely sacred place, because its soil was brought here by the Teutonic Order from Golgotha, situated near Jerusalem. Eventually, it became the final resting place of Pisa’s most famous and distinguished inhabitants.

2. Take Part in the Celebration of Pisa’s Patron Saint

Sky illuminated by fireworks during famous San Ranieri Luminara
Photo taken by  Sky illuminated by fireworks during famous San Ranieri Luminara

Every June, Pisa celebrates its patron saint by organising a number of very interesting and deeply traditional events. During the Luminara di San Ranieri, which takes place on the evening of June 16, the buildings that line the coastline of River Arno adorn themselves with thousands of little lights. The following day, it’s time for the Regatta of San Ranieri, marked by the appearance of four ancient boats that represent the four neighbourhoods of Pisa. We recommend you also stay for the Ancient Seafaring Republics Regatta that takes place right after and is attended by over 300 people in costume.

3. Enjoy the “Tuttomondo” Fresco

Keith Haring was a world-famous street artist, public figure and social activist. While his work is very well known in the US, the 1989 “Tuttomondo” fresco he painted on a wall of Pisa’s Sant Antonio Church was undeservedly forgotten.

So do go on the lookout for Haring’s last artwork – the 180 sq. metre painting depicting the life, joy and the rebirth of Pisa after the Second World War. Haring, by the way, did not shy away from painting himself into the fresco – he can be seen as a yellow silhouette trying to break out of the frame.

4. Take a Walk along the River Arno

Pisa, Italy - view of old street and river Arno with main landmarks - Palazzo Pretorio (with clocktower), gothic Palazzo Gambacorti
Photo taken by  Pisa, Italy - view of old street and river Arno with main landmarks - Palazzo Pretorio (with clocktower), gothic Palazzo Gambacorti

The city of Pisa is split in two by the River Arno, the coasts of which – called lungarni in Italian – exude romantic atmosphere and invite people to take long walks along them. Both of the coasts, located in the city centre, are surrounded by exquisitely beautiful historic palaces, churches and squares, and are joined by several bridges. The writers and poets of the 19th century were probably right to look for inspiration here.

Arguably the most interesting object on the riverside is the tiny Church of Santa Maria della Spina. Built in 1230, this church is now considered to be one of the most beautiful Gothic churches in Europe. Legend has it that Santa Maria della Spina used to be the reliquary of a thorn from Christ’s crown.

5. Don’t Miss Your Chance to Visit Exclusive Exhibitions

Figure 16 century depicting the Baptistery in Pisa
Photo taken by  Figure 16 century depicting the Baptistery in Pisa

One of the two coasts of River Arno is home to the Palazzo Blu, or Blue Palace, which can be seen from far away thanks to its unusual colour. Historians claim that the palace was founded here as early as the 8th century, while the current look of the building came about at the turn of the 17th century due to efforts on the part of the Del Testa family. Today, it’s home to one of the most famous galleries in Tuscany, known for its spectacular exhibitions – since 2009, it has been displaying the work of such artists as M. Chagall, J. Mirò, P. Picasso, W. Kandinsky, A. Warhol and A. Modigliani.

6. Learn about the History of the Powerful Seafaring Pisa

Picturesque view on beautiful beach in Marina di Pisa
Photo taken by  Picturesque view on beautiful beach in Marina di Pisa

In 1998, during the construction of a railroad, exquisitely preserved remains of an ancient sea harbour were dug up in the city of Pisa, which marked the beginnings of an archaeological ship museum – the Museo delle navi antiche di Pisa. According to some speculation, the soil of Pisa has been very conducive to the preservation of ancient Roman and Pisa’s own ships, and the equipment characteristic of ancient harbours. So go ahead and get acquainted with the city’s seafaring history!

7. Learn about the Legends of the Piazza dei Cavalieri

Piazza dei Cavalieri in Pisa
Photo taken by  Piazza dei Cavalieri in Pisa

The locals say that the Piazza dei Cavalieri is their favourite square, located just a few minutes by foot from the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The square, founded by Duke Cosimo I de Medici and his architect Giorgio Vasari, attained its name to honour of the Order of St. Stephen. The Knight’s Palace, prized with a stunningly scenic façade, is probably the most impressive building in the whole square.

The nearby Palazzo dell’Orologio hides a blood-curdling legend, which maintains that the Tower of Hunger was located here in the 13th century. The count Ugolino, imprisoned in the tower for treason, died here in 1289. According to the legend, desperate to stave off hunger, he ate his sons and grandsons who were locked up with him.

8. Visit the Noisy Old Town Market

Food street market
Photo taken by  Food street market

Just like every other city in Tuscany, Pisa boasts some truly charming markets. We recommend you wake up early and take a stroll round the market located in Piazza Vettovalgie and its nearby streets. Small meat and bread shops, bars and diners, huddled up under the porticoes of the square’s perimeter open up at the break of dawn. The colours and ambient smells of the market lure its visitors into the dark and narrow streets of the Old Town, such as the Borgo Stretto, home to tons of little shops and the setting of the Christmas Fair in winter.

9. Try Some Fish and Seafood-Based Dishes

Photo taken by  Seafood

Even though the traditional cuisine of Pisa offers many simple and tasty meat, vegetable and macaroni dishes, we think it’s also worth it to visit the Marina di Pisa – a resort located on the Mediterranean coast just 10 km from the city – and try some fresh fish and seafood. Spaghetti with clam, oven-baked or grilled Orata (Gilt-head bream), and mussel soup will simply melt in your mouth.

10. Follow in the Footsteps of Galileo

Galileo Galilei
Photo taken by  Galileo Galilei

One of the world’s most famous astronomers, mathematicians, philosophers and physicists – Galileo – was born in Pisa in 1564. Firstly, take a walk down the Via Giusti and find the houses numbered 24 and 26. Latest research has shown that this is where the scientist-to-be was born. Then visit the Cathedral of Pisa, where the little Galileo was baptised.

Piazza Cairoli was the place where many locals – including the Galileo family – liked to spend their free time. And finally, the Palazzo della Sapienza – the university which the astronomer failed to graduate from.

Comments (1)

B. Thompson   1 year ago
'used to be the reliquary of a thorn from Christ’s crown ' Why not mention the current location of the thorn? Has the hosptal asked that it not be mentioned to curtail tourist traffic in the chapel? ''