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Did You Know…?
- The Leaning Tower began to tilt while in construction; adjustments left the top leaning less than lower sections.
- Pisa Cathedral was the world’s largest cathedral when built in the 11th century.
- Pisa had around 700 tower houses, which lost their top floors when Florence took over the city.
- Tradition says Galileo dropped objects from the Leaning Tower to prove items of different weights fall at the same speed.
- The Church of San Michele degli Scalzi is the site of Pisa’s second tower that leans.
Of Tuscany and a tower
Mention the name Pisa, and the city’s white Leaning Tower immediately comes to mind. Many other things don’t come to tourists’ mind so quickly — unless those tourists have visited this charming Italian city on the Arno downriver from Florence.
Pisa, which was a trading port in the pre-Roman and Roman eras, grew to prominence as a marine republic in the Middle Ages. Antiquities are in evidence at the city’s Museum of Ancient Ships and a nearby archaeological dig.
Residuals of a medieval role as Tuscany’s chief urban center and port are much more abundant, including museums and their art collections, religious structures, city walls and houses seen on piazzas and along the river.
Pisa also still claims a few, but very few, of the hundreds of casatorres, tall tower houses, that well-to-do homeowners in the Middle Ages constructed to signal their power and wealth. (Florence conquered the city and forced Pisans to remove the tops of those towers.)
And, of course, the most-visited sight is the medieval Miracles Square, famed for the Leaning Tower but much the richer because it also encompasses Pisa Cathedral, the Baptistery and a cemetery.
That cemetery — more accurately, the Camposanto, dating from the 13th century — is surrounded by a fence of marble and encloses a cloister. Its interior walls were once covered by frescoes, but most were destroyed during World War II. It remains an unmissable part of the package.
Pisa is only a few miles from Italy’s west coast and beaches on the Ligurian Sea; natural springs also translate into nearby spa towns. In the city, the Arno is a center for festivals, boat races and the option to do a little rowing of one’s own.
Predictably, the city offers fine dining choices that take advantage of the foodstuffs for which Tuscany is known, but with a high quotient of seafood, given the location near the sea.
And, for those who savor — and who doesn’t? — the hilly Tuscan countryside, Pisa is a handy jumping-off point for hikes or cycling trips into the countryside or a beefed-up journey focused on the area’s fascinating history.
Things to do for Venturers
- Study Italian in Pisa. Practice on the streets and in the nightspots.
- Attend the Regatta of the Marine Republics on the Arno River, where participants reenact naval battles between four historic republics (Amalfi, Genoa, Pisa and Venice, Genoa). Time this well — the event occurs every four years. Or, do some rowing of your own on the river.
- Bicycle in the Migliarino San Rossore Massaciuccoli nature reserve, or cover the territory on horseback.
- Alternatively, hike in this coastal park or in other parts of the countryside outside of Pisa.
- Take a cooking class.
- Book a time slot for your climb up the 294-step spiral staircase inside the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The number of climbers is limited to protect the tilted campanile.
Things to do for Centrics
- Immerse yourself in explorations of the four white marble structures in Miracles Square, including the Pisa Cathedral and the famed Leaning Tower.
- Book an olive oil tasting session in conjunction with a lunchtime break.
- If you’ve a special interest in antiquity, make a day trip to the area’s best living example, the Etruscan town of Volterra, which was never conquered by Romans in battle. See Italy’s oldest city hall in Volterra’s central square while you are at it.
- See the light — of Pisa lighted with more than 70,000 candles during the Luminara of San Ranieri, which honors the city’s patron saint, St. Ranieri.
- Be awed by the well-preserved vessels on display in Pisa’s Museum of Ancient Ships. The ships and their contents date from the Hellenistic times to late antiquity. Book ahead for a guided tour of the associated excavation site.
- Tour the 14th century Charterhouse, i.e., monastery, located at Calci. The last monks left in 1972. Be amazed at how well these monks lived, residing in “cells” comprising several rooms, while also abiding by a code of silence.
Things to do for Authentics
- Entertain yourself when inside the Baptistery by noting that, when you say something from one side of the baptismal font, the sound will echo in various tones throughout the Baptistery.
- Check out the sands of Marina di Vecchiano if you want beach time.
- Sample one of the spas, relying on natural hot springs, in places like Casciana, San Giuliano and Uliveto.
- See an excellent collection of 12th through 15th century art in the National Museum of San Matteo, which is housed in a former monastery.
- Eat lots of seafood, as well as all the pasta and fresh foods the rest of Tuscany is known for.
- It’s irresistible: See Pisa’s other tower that leans at the Church of San Michele degli Scalzi.
For more information, consult the Official Tourism Site of Tuscany at www.turismo.intoscana.it and choose your language if necessary.