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Places of Interest in Pisa, Italy

Updated on April 13, 2014
Tower of Pisa
Tower of Pisa | Source

Pisa is a city and the capital of Pisa province in the region of Tuscany, Italy. It is situated in a flat, alluvial plain on both banks of the Arno River, about 6 miles (10 km) from the Ligurian Sea and about 45 miles (72 km) west of Florence. Until the late Middle Ages the sea reached Pisa, but accumulation of silt deposits at the mouth of the Arno had completely cut it off from the sea by the 15th century. Since the 16th century, Pisa has been connected with the port of Livorno (Leghorn), 12 miles (19 km) to the southwest, by the Navicelli ship canal, which was deepened and substantially improved between World Wars I and II.

The city has a quiet, almost deserted appearance. Little remains of its once flourishing commercial activities, although reclamation of the surrounding marshy area has favored some expansion of the city as well as the development of some new industries in the suburbs. A railway center, Pisa has some textile mills, glass, pottery, and pharmaceutical factories, as well as railroad shops.

Piazza dei Miracoli
Piazza dei Miracoli | Source
Pisa Baptistry
Pisa Baptistry | Source
Knights' Square
Knights' Square | Source

Pisa is famous for its art treasures, especially for its unique architectural ensemble in the Piazza del Duomo, the so-called Square of Miracles, at the northwest end of the city. It consists of the cathedral, the campanile, or leaning tower, the baptistery, and the camposanto, or cemetery.

The marble cathedral, begun in 1063, is built in the Pisan-Romanesque style. The facade has four galleries in the upper part, blind arches in the lower part. These extend along the sides and back of the cathedral as well. The facade's bronze doors (17th century), which depict the life of the Madonna, are the work of the successors of Giambologna. They replaced the 12th century doors of Bonanno Pisano, which were destroyed by fire. The only one of Bonanno's original doors that survived is in the south transept. The interior of the cathedral is enriched with sculptures, mosaics, and paintings. The pulpit was carved in 1310 by Giovanni Pisano. A bronze lamp hangs from the center of the dome. According to tradition, Galileo Galilei, a native of Pisa, first grasped the scientific principles of the motion of a pendulum by observing its movements. The leaning tower stands behind the southwest end of the cathedral.

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Santa Maria della SpinaBasilica di San Pietro Apostolo (Chiesa di San Piero a Grado), near PisaSan Paolo a Ripa d'ArnoSan Nicola
Santa Maria della Spina
Santa Maria della Spina | Source
Basilica di San Pietro Apostolo (Chiesa di San Piero a Grado), near Pisa
Basilica di San Pietro Apostolo (Chiesa di San Piero a Grado), near Pisa | Source
San Paolo a Ripa d'Arno
San Paolo a Ripa d'Arno | Source
San Nicola
San Nicola | Source

The cathedral's baptistery (12th–14th centuries), one of the finest in Italy, has rich Gothic ornamentations. It contains a great octagonal marble baptismal font and a pulpit (1260) by Nicola Pisano, considered by some to be his masterpiece. The burying ground of the cemetery, the earth of which is said to have been brought from Calvary, is surrounded by four corridors with Gothic windows. On the walls of the corridors are frescoes by 14th and 15th century artists, the most impressive being the Triumph of Death, variously attributed to several artists of the 14th century, and stories of the Old Testament painted by Benozzo Gozzoli between 1467 and 1485. All were seriously damaged by an incendiary bomb in 1944, but parts of the frescoes were restored.

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Much of Pisa's charm was due to the Lungarni, promenades along the Arno. But many of its medieval houses, palaces, and churches were damaged during World War II. The finest of these, the marble Church of Santa Maria della Spina, considered a gem of the Gothic style, was also damaged but later restored. In the Piazza dei Cavalieri are the 16th century Church of San Stefano dei Cavalieri, the imposing Palazzo dei Cavalieri, and the Palazzo dell'Orologio. Also worthy of note are the churches of Santa Caterina and San Paolo a Ripa d'Arno; the Loggia dei Banchi, a portico built between 1603 and 1605, originally used as the wool and silk exchange; and the Medici Palace (13th century), where the Medici resided during visits to Pisa. The national museum contains a rich collection of works by artists of Tuscan schools. The most famous of its educational institutions is its historic university.

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