Pisa

Overview

Introduction

Pisa is a lively medieval university town in the Tuscan region of Italy. Although the Leaning Tower (known as the Torre Pendente by locals) is one of the main attractions and the symbol of the city, it is only one of the many beautiful treasures of Pisa. The building of the tower began in 1174 and was completed only in the second half of the 14th century because of repeated sinking of the land under its foundation. In 1990, the instability of the tower made it necessary to close it to visitors, but an extensive program of modern engineering was successful in rebalancing the tower to its original "degree of lean." Today, visitors can climb the 294 steps of the spiral staircase leading up to the belfry at the top.

The tower is one of the monuments on the Campo dei Miracoli (Field of Miracles), a large, grassy square in the Santa Maria historical quarter of the city. The square is situated right by the oldest early-medieval city walls, built in 1155 and still perfectly preserved. The medieval buildings of the Duomo of Pisa, the Baptistery of San Giovanni and the Camposanto are all constructed completely from white marble, forming a beautiful, thematic whole in the square.

It's also fun to just walk around Pisa, as the city is very compact, with many narrow streets and a great ambience. Take a walk along the Arno River Promenade to the National Museum of San Matteo for an excellent collection of 12th- to 15th-century art. Along the way, take in the towers, bridges and buildings dating from the Middle Ages. Walk along the Ponte della Fortezza, and don't miss the church of Santa Maria Della Spina on the other side of the river for one of the best examples of Italian Gothic architecture.

Pisa is only 40 mi/65 km (an hour by train) from Florence, making an easy day trip, but it is worthwhile to spend at least two days exploring Pisa's sights. Other towns in the area that are well worth a visit are the medieval walled hill-town of Lucca just 20 minutes north of Pisa, as well as the hill towns of Volterra and San Gimignano (about an hour south) with their Etruscan ruins, castles and towers.

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