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Pisa


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Pisa, Italy

Pisa is a city in Tuscany, Italy with a population of some 90,000 people.

Pisa is most famous for its Leaning Tower. Many visitors arrive into this university town and visit the Piazza dei Miracoli, or Square of Miracles, where the tower, the cathedral and baptistery form the city's main attraction.

Around the square's perimeter you'll also find the Camposanto, Opera del Duomo museum and Museum of the Sinopie which we also highly recommend visiting. A few blocks away, the Piazza dei Cavalieri once was the heart of power in the city and later the headquarters of the Knights of St. Stephen. Today, it is a center of culture and learning as the famous Scuola Normale di Pisa has its base in the Palazzo della Carovana that faces onto the piazza.

Weather in Pisa

Staying true to a large portion of the Italian mainland, Pisa boasts a Mediterranean climate. This means that summers (June to August) are fairly warm with temperatures reaching upwards of 30ºC. Winters (November to March), however are fairly temperature with weather in Pisa rarely dropping to freezing levels. Temperatures in the city are never below 0ºC.

Summer time attracts the most tourists to Pisa. With many European families spending their holidays touring Italy, Pisa weather is often the most pleasant in summertime. With school out at the local university, the city is also often less crowded with many students returning home for the school break.

What to see in Pisa

Pisa is one of the most famous cities in Italy and attracts many tourists to its leaning tower. This tower, which was built in the 12th century, was actually a bell tower for the nearby cathedral. Ever since the tower was built it is leaning over off center for about 4 meters. It has never been attempted to put the tower straight up again since tourists would stay away. However, the tower has been renovated in 2004 so it cannot fall over.

Except The Leaning Tower of Pisa Italy, you can see there:     

  • Campo dei Miracoli – Literally “Field of Miracles,” this is the name for the uber-green lawn which surrounds the leaning tower, the Duomo and the Baptistery. It is some of the greenest grass you’ll ever see, but it’s not to be used as a picnic grounds.
  • Pisa’s Duomo – See that enormous building next to the tilting tower? That’s the cathedral, or Duomo, for which the tower was to serve only as a place for the bells. The Duomo routinely gets overlooked by people scurrying in just to see the leaning tower, but it’s gorgeous and well worth a tour inside.
  • Pisa’s Baptistery – The other oft-neglected building near the leaning tower is on the opposite end of the Duomo, and it’s the baptistery. The largest in Italy, Pisa’s baptistery has incredible acoustics inside. Sometimes the staff guarding the door can be cajoled into demonstrating them, so brush up on your Italian compliments.
  • Museo dell’Opera del Duomo – Although the cathedral is lovely both inside and out, most of the artwork once housed in it has been moved to a more secure and climate-controlled setting in the Duomo Museum. It’s not far from the leaning tower.
  • Chiesa di Santa Maria della Spina – This Gothic church dates from the early 13th century, and it got its name in the 14th century when it acquired a reliquary allegedly containing a thorn from Jesus’ crown. The reliquary is no longer in this church (it’s now in the Church of Santa Chiara), but Santa Maria della Spina is still interesting, if for no other reason than it was entirely dismantled and rebuilt in the late 1870s to raise the whole church up by one meter.
  • Old Citadel & Guelph Tower – The top of this tower gives you a view of Pisa that actually includes Pisa’s most famous tower, so for that reason alone it’s worth a stop.
  • Botanic Gardens – This extensive garden is just down the street from the leaning tower, and is maintained by the University of Pisa. It has the distinction of being the first university botanic garden in all of Europe, and as an added bonus for budget travelers, it’s free!
  • Palazzo Agostini & Caffè dell’Ussero – The palazzo was built in the 14th century, and is beautifully preserved. It also leans, perhaps taking after the leaning tower nearby, but more likely because the whole city is on soft ground. The palazzo also houses one of Pisa’s most famous cafes, the Caffè dell’Ussero, which opened in the late 1790s.
  • Borgo Stretto – Shopaholics stopping in Pisa will want to head for this street, which is where all the chic boutiques are located. Budget travelers can still enjoy the ambience just by window shopping with a gelato in hand.
  • Piazza dei Cavalieri – One of Pisa’s many lovely squares, this one is notable because it was designed by Vasari, and one of Italy’s best universities has this piazza as its address: the Scuola Normale Superiore, founded by Napoleon.
  • Chiesa del Santo Sepolcro – This 12th-century church was built for the Knights of Malta, and it’s unusual for its octagonal shape.
  • Keith Haring Mural – Keith Haring’s popular graffiti-style modern art is recognizable the world over, but you still might be surprised to find a big Haring mural in Pisa. Seems Haring really liked the city, and on a wall of the Church of Sant’Antonio in Pisa in 1989, he made what would become the last public painting he would do before his death in 1990.
  • La Fontana dei putti (The Fountain with Angels)     
  • Piazza dei Miracoli near tower, Pisa italy
  • The Cathedral square, Pisa Italy     
  • The Baptistery, Pisa Italy     
  • Museum of the Sinopie
  • The Churchyard
  • Piazza dei Cavalieri or The Knights’ Square     San Michele in Borgo
  • Piazza delle Vettovaglie
  • The Church of Santa Maria della Spina
  • San Paolo a Ripa d'Arno (St. Paul on Arno's bank)
  • Chapel of St. Agatha

What to do in Pisa

Pisa is first of all famous for its artistic and architectural treasures. However, it is often associated only with the Leaning Tower and therefore, underrated.

On the contrary, Pisa is a city of great history and of an enormous artistic wealth: it is much more than its famous tower.

Of course, the Field of Miracles, with the Duomo, the Baptistry, the Monumental Cemetery and the Tower are definitely a must see. The Museum of the Duomo and the Museum of the Sinopie preserve incredible treasures.

Pisa is well worth a stay longer than just the few hours necesary to see these monuments though.

There are Roman ruins which are well worth a visit, and soon the museum of the Roman ships will be open to the public.

The medieval heart of Pisa, with the lovely vegetable market, is unique and it hosts some of the best restaurants and bars in town.

Pisa the Maritime Republic and the Renaissance city are wonderful as well, even if definitely less known.

The Lungarni are a voyage through the centuries: from the medieval Tower Houses, to the noble palaces which hosted famous artists such as Lord Byron and P.B. Shelley.

Pisa is home to the oldest botanic garden in Europe, and it has beautiful gardens and parks.

Pisa is the city of contemporary art thanks to one of the last important murals by Keith Haring.

Pisa is the city of churches and of ancient libraries.

Pisa is the city of science and culture.

Pisa is a city which well deserves more than 2 or 3 hours of your time: discover it walking, bike through the little streets of the historical centre, go for a one-horse carriage ride or take the tour of the Lungarni by boat.

What you don't want to miss in Corso Italia

  • A piece of Pisan pizza, cooked in baking tins upside down or a piece of "cecina", a soft thick omelette, a sort of polenta, made with chickpea flour. To be eaten with pepper and with or without focaccia
  • A Nutella wafer... you will smell the shop
  • Need a haircut? Jerry or Cheope are the trendiest hairdressers in the whole city
  • Need an Internet café? There is one in the beautiful Piazza Gambacorti or Piazza la Pera opposite Via della Nunziatina, and the owner speaks perfect English.
  • Do you like comics? Go to Fumettando, a shop specialised in comics in Piazza Gambacorti

Corso Italia: the heart of the city centre
  • The two historical quarters of this side of the city, Mezzogiorno, are divided by a very lively street: Corso Italia, the High Street of Pisa.
  • An ideal walk can begin from the Central Station, which was built in 1863 and then refurbished after the bombing of the Second World War.
  • Actually, this part of the city still has very clear signs of the atrocious bombings of 1944 when Pisa was attacked for 45 consecutive days: 57 bombings, over 3000 civilians killed and 50% of the buildings were destroyed.
  • This tragedy is evident walking from the station towards Corso Italia. All the buildings are modern or have been rebuilt.
  • Walking through via Gramsci, we arrive at an elliptical square, quite chaotic because of the traffic: this is Piazza Vittorio Emanuale, represented by the statue in the middle. Remember this square: most of the city busses stop here, there will soon be a major underground parking garage and the central Post Office is located here.
  • The buildings in the square are neo-gothic in style and were built with the square in 1872 after the demolition of part of the city walls and the old Gate of San Giulio.
  • Also located in this square is the church of Sant'Antonio, which gives its name to one of the quarters. The church was rebuilt after the bombing with the exception of the façade, which is in the typical Pisan style.
  • Near the church, in the square is one more thing you must not miss: in Via Zandoni, there is a massive mural by Keith Haring from 1989. The artist chose Pisa as the host city for his last impressive work of art before his premature death in 1990.
  • Continue and walk down Corso Italia, the liveliest and most crowded street in the city. Corso Italia belongs to the Quarter of San Martino.
  • This is a very good place to shop: the best shops can be found here and in Borgo Stretto, on the other side of the river.
Things to see in this street:
  • At the beginning of the street, on your right, is the little Church of San Domenico, part of a convent of Dominican nuns. The little church was built in the 14th century by Pietro Gambacorti for his daughter, the blessed Chiara.
  • Next to the church is a beautiful building in liberty style, built in 1911 by the architect Studiati, and nowadays home to a nice commercial centre, called Corte di San Domenico.
  • Just a few steps north and on your right, there is a beautiful noble palace called Palazzo Gambacorti (14th century): it was built according to the style in fashion in Venice at the time.
  • Palazzo Gambacorti is beside a small square and the huge Chiesa di Santa Maria del Carmine. The side walls are original from the 14th century, while the façade belongs to the 17th century. The statue in the square represents Nicola Pisano and was made by Salvini in 1826. The interior is decorated in the baroque style, with the exception of the vestry which is furnished with original wooden pieces from the 15th century. The church has a beautiful cloistered court.
  • If you continue towards the river you find several other beautiful noble palaces until you finally come to the Logge dei Banchi, a porticoed building built at the beginning of the 17th century where once were the jails. It once held the wool and silk market, and later the food market. Nowadays it houses the monthly antique market (2nd Sunday of every month) and the Christmas market. The top room is part of the National Archive and can be accessed from a bridge connected to the Town Hall building, Palazzo Gambacorti.
  • This second Palazzo Gambacorti is one of the most beautiful noble buildings built by the powerful Pisan families on the Lungarni. It faces the river and Ponte di Mezzo (literally, the middle bridge). Pietro Gambacorti had it built at the beginning of the 14th century and the tradition says that he was killed here, on the doorstep in 1393.
  • Opposite the City Hall, on the other side of the Logge dei Banchi there is the Palazzo dell'Orologio, with the clock that still represents a reference point for all the people who go out for the evening "struscio" in Corso Italia.

Shopping in Pisa

The area around the Tower is packed with tacky souvenir shops - ignore them and walk to Corso Italia and the Borgo Stretto, the two main shopping streets in Pisa. Here you will find all kinds of Italian fashion shops. The cheapest brands are in Corso Italia, and the most well-known and elegant stores lie in the medieval Borgo Stretto.

Two other streets, via Mercanti and Via dei Rigattieri, boast many excellent shops. All around the centre of the city there are dealers who sell old books and paintings.
Fiera dell’Antiquariato e Artigianato Artistico (Antique and craft fair)

If you are interested in antiques and old furniture, the Fiera dell’antiquariato e artigianato artistico (Antique and craft fair), which is held in Via Santa Maria, Piazza Felice Cavallotti, Via dei Mille, Via Corsica, Piazza dei Cavalieri and Via Ulisse Dini every second Saturday and Sunday of the month (except August and July), is highly recommended.
  • Coin specialise in men´s and women´s clothing and beauty. Not only will you find shoes, bags, jewellery, perfumes, but they also offer a great selection of high quality kitchen and bathroom gadgets.
  • Emporio Armani - This is a store where the prices actually does not equal a monthly rent. Emporio Armani is the more affordable end of the designer brand Giorgio Armani, but never the less with the same sense of detail and fashion.
  • Zara - This world famous brand soon has a store in every mid-size town and also in Pisa you find one of their outlets. Here you find the latest fashion for men, women and children, everything from street wear to the more up-dressed look.

What to eat in Pisa

The Mercato delle vettovaglie (fruit and food market, in Piazza delle Vettovaglie) which is over a hundred years old, is open from Mondays to Fridays. Come here to see and experience the everyday life of Pisa.

In Pisa you can find typical meat-based and fish-based Tuscan cuisine. You should try the characteristic chickpea soup together with the so-called sciocco (unsalted) bread and the famous local olive oil. Home made pasta is another must.
  • A Casa Mia - This is said to be one of the best restaurants of Pisa and never too busy due to its location outside the city centre (it’s around 2 km from piazza dei Miracoli). The restaurant is located in an independent house with a garden. You can eat in the kitchen or in the dining room and summer time in the garden.
  • Trattoria da Mario - Trattoria da Mario serves typical Tuscan dishes such as soup of vegetables, homemade pasta and fish in a retro setting. It is located close to Piazza dei Miracoli and all the major attractions there.
  • Il Campano - Trattoria Il Campano is situated in an ancient tower with brick walls and a mysterious yet inviting atmosphere. The wine cellar holds more than 400 different brands to complement your meal the best way possible.
  • Osteria San Paolo - In the centre of Pisa but at a quiet street this restaurant surprises you with its visionary flavours. Either you prefer fish or meat your visit will be memorable. Remember to try their home made cake before you leave.
  • Il Bistrot - This is a friendly and warm restaurant. Lunch, dinner or just a coffee or a glass of wine, the choice is yours and you will get the best service whatever you choose.
  • Namaste India Ristorante - Hunger for something else than pastas and pizzas, Namaste India Ristorante offers authentic Indian food in the city centre of Pisa. With more than 30 years in the business this restaurant will provide you with the best Indian flavours.
  • Bagus Wine & Food - With a rooster on their sign, symbolizing Tuscan wines, you will find Bagus Wine & Food tucked in on a backstreet away form the main shopping area. Octopus, ravioli stuffed with braised duck, mushroom gnocchi and T-bone steak are only a few dishes from their menu.

Nightlife in Pisa

Pisa isn’t exactly known amongst Italians for the pace and variety of its nightlife. But with a lively student population making sure that the drinks keep flowing in the city’s bars, there’s plenty to keep travelers happy on a night out.

Nightlife in Pisa generally ebbs and flows with the students, so it’s worth keeping a tab on their general whereabouts. Thursdays are the big night in the city, as (along with stretches during the summer) the students often go home over weekends.

The Lungarni district and the streets around Piazza Garibaldi are the best places to get an evening started. Budget-friendly, and with a vibrant, friendly atmosphere, the majority of people studying in Pisa both live and go out here, and there are plenty of good bars.

There's a cluster of chic (and pricier) cafés on Borgo Stretto ideal for a quiet drink before heading to the river banks for some dinner and wine. Alternatively, the Piazza Cairoli is home to a couple of even classier cocktail dispensing establishments full of the more locals.

For those looking for a proper night out, the bars and club are, while few and far between, filled with a surprisingly energetic scene. Many of the larger pubs turn into mini clubs as the night wears on, and the friendly locals will be happy to point you in the direction of the best action.

Pisa jams to a variety of tunes and genres, and rock and jazz fans should be equally satisfied by the live music scene on offer. Bars do, however, tend to close between one and two in the morning, so a night out normally starts and ends earlier than elsewhere in Italy.

Should you happen to turn up in Pisa during the summer and everything seems a bit quiet, don’t worry – many will have only gone to Viareggio (the next town along) for its headier summer nightlife scene.

Tags: Pisa, Italy travel experience, city guide and tourist map of Pisa, accommodation in Pisa apartments for rent prices in Pisa, hotels Pisa, travel guide Pisa tourist info, weather forcast, 3

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