It’s true that the Leaning Tower is the reason most people make a trip to Pisa. But there’s a lot more to it for those who stray beyond the grassy confines of Piazza dei Miracoli. The city may not have the magnificence of Florence or the perfectly maintained Medieval streets of Siena, but it does have friendly atmosphere, lovely river walks, and some pretty lavish architecture. Take a walk with us and find out.
One day in Pisa – The Leaning Tower and all the highlights
From Piazza dei Miracoli walk along Via S.Maria and turn into Via dei Mille. Here you enter the splendid Piazza dei Cavalieri, a striking space largely designed and decorated by Vasari during Cosimo I de Medici’s rule.
Piazza dei Cavalieri and the Order of Saint Stephen
If Piazza dei Miracoli bears witness to the grandeur of Pisa at the height of its maritime power, Piazza dei Cavalieri is the symbol of the Medici rule over Pisa. The square is the political and intellectual heart of the city, acquired by Cosimo I after he became Gran Duke of Tuscany. Pisa had been overcome by 1404 and the Medici wanted to keep an eye on the city and make use of its ports and naval prowess.
In 1561, the Order of Saint Stephen was founded by Cosimo I with the approval of the Pope. A religious military order, its purpose was to halt the increasing influence of the Ottoman Turks in the Mediterranean, eventually taking part in famous Battle of Lepanto in 1571. The Church of Cavalieri di Santo Stefano contains Ottoman banners won during the naval battles and historic pieces of ships. The beautifully decorated Palazzo della Carovana today hosts the prestigious Normale University.
From here go back to via Santa Maria and visit the Church of San Nicola – with the unusual bell tower that leans as well. If you look closely you’ll see the Fibonacci sequence designed in geometry on the facade, or take via San Frediano that will lead you directly to the river Arno.
Walk left along the Lungarno Mediceo and take in the view and the many coloured buildings. On the other side you’ll notice the elegant Palazzo Blu (Blue Palace), a place where exhibitions are often held. On this side, there’s a red brick Gothic palace with striking decorations and triforate windows. This is Palazzo Agostini, one of the oldest (14th century) and best preserved in Pisa. Visit the historic Caffè dell’Ussero while you’re here. Founded in 1794, it was a popular hangout for artists and intellectuals from the University of Pisa. Among the most famous of the frequent visitors were Montanelli, Abba, Panzacchi and Carducci.
When walking the streets of Pisa, remember to look up. This is where you’ll see the city’s real architectural detail, decorating building tops, windows and balconies.
Arriving at the bridge Ponte di Mezzo, at the centre of the city, you’ll find Borgo Stretto. This is a picturesque and atmospheric street full of shops and restaurants, and the site of the Church of San Michele in Borgo. Meanwhile on the other side there’s Corso Italia, another focal point of the city, filled with shops of all descriptions (but less atmospheric than Borgo Stretto). If you walk along Lungarno Gambacorti you’ll reach the Church of Santa Maria della Spina, and from here there are some lovely riverfront views.
Carry on walking along Lungarno Gambacorti (to the south) there’s the attractive, if dilapidated Church of San Paolo in Ripa d’Arno.
DID YOU KNOW?
The Leaning Tower isn’t the only ‘leaning’ edifice in Pisa. This is due to the terrain which is mostly made up of clay and water. If you look carefully you’ll see that the bell tower of the Church of San Nicola has begun to lean too.