To almost every tourist, Pisa is synonymous with its grand Torre Pendente (Leaning Tower), the almost symbolic image for Italy and an awesome structure that is actually a bell tower whose construction began in 1173 and took almost 200 years to build! But the Leaning Tower is only one Pisa's breathtaking Campo dei Miracoli, or Field of Miracles. Here, also can be seen the magnificent Duomo, the Battistero, and the Galleria that encloses the Camposanto (monumental graveyard). These, and a dozen or so churches and palazzi scattered about the historic centre, belong to Pisa's "Golden Age", from the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries, when the city was one of the maritime powers of the Mediterranean. Pisa is also known for its excellent university established in 1343 and which is considered to be one of Italy's top schools and a place where writers and poets liked to live.
Pisa is filled with wonderful, historical monuments (produced from white Carrara marble,) and beautiful architecture known as "Pisan Romanesque", noted by its black and white marble facades inspired by the Moorish designs of Andalucia. Traveling extensively along the Mediterranean, Pisan merchants brought a diversity of style in art, culture and architecture to its citizens, resulting in great mercantile wealth and forming the basis of a scientific and cultural revolution that is still reflected in Pisa's splendid buildings, many of which date back hundreds of years.
Retaining its medieval appearance, Pisa's glorious past stays alive. Throughout the city evidence of its rich history and artistic accomplishment prevail, and its narrow streets that open into charming little squares, its multicolored markets and noble palaces, a park where you can walk on the walls, Pisa retains its image as the "city of marvels".
Because of their peripatetic nature, Pisans brought long-forgotten ideas of science, architecture and philosophy back to Europe from their trade travels. Pisa's great variety of architectural styles in its monuments is testament to their exposure to different people, cultures and artistic concepts and to their willingness to blend and harmonize external influences into new and original forms of expression.
It was here that the refined Pisan-Romanesque style was born, Pisa's permanent legacy to the world's art, and where Galileo, one of the wor's greatest physicists and astronomers, and Leonardo Fibonacci, the great mathematician, were born, studied and taught. Pisa's can also add its renowned University established in 1343 to its hall of fame, as it remains today one of Italy's top schools.
Originally established as an Etruscan settlement in the 2nd century BC, the Romans, who called it Portus Pisanus, controlled Pisa until the fall of the Empire. It became an important port town for the Gothes, the Longobards, and the Carolingians that joined with Genoa, Venice and Amalfi in the 11th century to be viewed as one of the most potent Italian Maritime Republics.
During the Middle Ages, the town's powerful navy guaranteed superiority of the West Mediterranean Sea. This was a period of cultural and architectural achievement when most of the celebrated monuments in town were built, including the Duomo, the cathedr's bell tower, and the distinguished Leaning Tower. The wealth that Pisa attained made it possible for the city to found colonies in South Spain, in North Africa, and on the southern coast of Lesser Asia.
But its success as a Maritime Republic was to be threatened and devastated by the Genoese in 1284, following years of warfare, at the Battle of Meloria (an islet off Livorno,) and the silting up of Pisa's harbor. With the cost of dredging becoming more than traffic could bear, the Visconti of Milan seized the city in 1395, and nine years later Firenze took it from them.
But being under the Florentine rule of Lorenzo il Magnifico proved to be beneficial to Pisa. The town was to undergo a grand transformation under the rule of the Medici family who transformed the urban landscape into splendor, initiated the building of beautiful Renaissance style buildings and established the towns renowned University of Pisa, with Galileo as a teacher of Physics. Firenze stayed in charge until Italian unification in the 1860s.
Pisa suffered its worst devastation in1944 when it fell victim to Allied bombing in WW2. With the areas south of the river Arno completely destroyed, much of the town's historic buildings were gone, forcing the town to rebuild much of what is seen today.
Pisa's proximity to the sea gives it a wealth of fresh seafood to prepare along with the traditional fresh vegetables, served with every Italian meal. Stoccafisso (stockfish) with potatoes, aragosta alla catalana (steamed lobster served on a bed of raw vegetables), carpaccio di mare (raw seafood), antipasto di pesce (salads with fish), are some of the delicious grilled and roasted fish and crustacean dishes offered in Pisan restaurants. Another Pisan specialty is baccala' (codfish), which is prepared in various ways but most often with chickpeas. While seafood is the mainstay, Pisans are proud of their Gran Padellata del Maremmano -- a rich stew of three kinds of meat cooked with spicy sausage and vegetables.
As it is throughout the world, Chianti is Italy's most famous wine, and the collective Chianti zone the largest classified wine zone in Toscana. The local Chianti DOCG wines made from grapes grown in this region are splendid accompaniments to Pisan culinary specialties.
The name for the piazza that houses the Leaning Tower, Duomo, Baptistery, and Camposanto (Monumental Graveyard).
Defying the laws of gravity, the Tower continues to attract many visitors over the centuries, including the Pisan scientist Galileo, who climbed to the top to conduct his experiments on the laws of gravity. Unlike many great buildings of the time, the Leaning Tower of Pisa serves no practical purpose. It was constructed, it is said, as a boastful statement to Pisa's nemesis, Firenze. At the time, the two were the modern equivalent of to's "superpowers", ruling much of the world through their control of the sea. Begun in 1173, it took almost 200 years to complete construction of the Tower. It stands at 191 feet in height when measured from its foundation and actually did have bells placed at its top.
The Tower tilts 5-1/2 degrees to the south due to the unstable soil beneath and is a unique and beautiful building with 190 marble and granite columns. Attempts to shore up the structure have been expensive and unsuccessful. Today the tower is stable and righted itself about 16 inches to a lean of about 15 feet.
One of the finest works of the Pisan Romanesque style and one of the most important Romanesque Cathedrals in the world, it is the Campo’s oldest structure. Although a fire in1595 destroyed most of the interior, paintings by Ghirlandaio, Cimabue’s spectacular gilded mosaic Christ Pantocrator which graces the right apse can be viewed. The pulpit by Giovanni Pisano is that family’s acknowledged masterpiece and is one of the greatest achievements of Pisan sculpture and sits majestically in the center. Relief panels depict classical and biblical subjects including the Nativity, the Massacre of the Innocents, the Flight into Egypt, and the Last Judgement.
Legend has it that the cloistered courtyard cemetery began when the Archbishop Lanfranchi, who led the Pisan fleet into the Crusades, came back with boatloads of soil from the Holy Land for burials. Over the centuries marvelous sculptures and frescoes were acquired, only to be shattered when Allied bombs in WWII destroyed most of this treasure and its priceless works of art. Fragments of some of these frescoes line the galleries.
The Bapistry is the largest of its kind, blending architectural styles of Tuscan Romanesque stripes with a Gothic ensemble of gables, pinnacles, and statues. The dome’s acoustics are astounding—a choir can be heard over a mile away!
Built on the site of the Roman forum, the piazza, the site of the town hall in the Middle Ages, is now home to the Scuola Normale Superiore -- one of Italy’s premier universities. Not open to the public, the busts of the old Grand Dukes of Toscana that decorate the façade can be seen along its exterior. Black wrought iron baskets, once receptacles for the heads of delinquent Pisans, flank the Palazzo dell’Orologio (Palace of the Clock).
The museum, a converted convent, displays spectacular panels by Masaccio, Fra Angelico, and Simone Martini, along with sculptures by the Pisano family and a bust by Donatello in its thirty rooms.
Giovanni Pisano’s Madonna del Colloquio (Madonna of the Conversation) named for the expressive gazes exchanged between mother and child is here along with Egyptian art, various Roman and Etruscan pieces, and works by Tino Camaino and Nino Pisano.
Across the square from the Campo Santo, the museum displays fresco sketches by Traini, Veneziano, and Gaddi.
Held in June, this celebration honoring the town’s patron saint, the Luminaria di San Ranieri, is a festival of lights! More than 70,000 wax squat candles (put into some glasses called Lampanini), are fixed on white laths (called Biancheria) and put at the windows of the town palaces and at the main doors, creating an ethereal and fascinating effect.
Floating candles placed on the surface of the Arno river slowly move with the current, adding to the ambience. The celebration ends with a colorful display of fireworks from the Cittadella Vecchia.
A rowing race between the four historic districts of Pisa with participants in Medieval costume is held on the Arno River in June. The event is tied to the Order of the Knights of Saint Steven created by the Medicis in the 1500s.
A Pisan tradition since the time of the Medicis, who created this competition to replace a more aggressive event, challenges local neighborhoods in a sort of "tug of war" across a bridge on the last Sunday in June. The historic parade leads to the Ponte di Mezzo (the main bridge over the Arno River).
Held in September and October in the beautiful Cathedral of Tuscany, immortal pieces of sacred music are introduced by prestigious directors from around the world.
Remnants of Pisa's maritime past are brough back to life, every 4 years in June. As a host city to this ancient boat race, the streets and coast come alive with the vivid standards of the 4 ancient naval powers of Amalfi, Pisa, Genoa and Venice. Parades and historical costumes round out the event.
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Set in the hearth of the Tuscan landscape, this city holds treasures like the frescoes of Piero della Francesca, in the church of San Francesco, and the Pieve di Santa Maria. Arezzo is one of Toscana’s wealthiest cities and is one of the Italian poles of the gold and jewelry industry.
Set in a valley on the banks of the Arno, surrounded by olive groves and vineyards, Florence is one of the best-known and best-loved cities of the world. Florence is the birthplace of the Renaissance, and of Renaissance’s masters such as Leonardo and Michelangelo, the work of which has punctuated the city with striking buildings, treasure-filled galleries and beautiful churches.
Known as the “Pearl of the 1500s”, the town of Montepulciano is rich in charming squares, churches and architectural jewels preserved through the centuries. Famous for its Vino Nobile wine, the town sits high on a hilltop overlooking the southern Tuscan countryside of vineyards and olive groves.
Pisa is synonymous with its grand Torre Pendente (Leaning Tower) which, along with the Duomo, the Battistero, and the Camposanto, is one of buildings presents in Campo dei Miracoli. Pisa is also known for its excellent university established in 1343 and which is considered to be one of Italy's top schools.
Possibly Italy’s most famous small town, there are few places that evoke the atmosphere of Medieval Toscana so precisely. Set in the countryside, overlooking the beautiful vineyards and groves of olive trees below this small and charming medieval town is worldwide known for its lofty medieval towers.
Siena is a magnificent ensemble of medieval palaces, cathedrals and towers and a soaring skyline dominated by the needle of the Mangia Tower. Built on three hills surrounded by well-preserved walls, the city is filled with beautiful examples of Gothic architecture. It is here that the fabulous Palio occurs in the summer of each year.
This original Etruscan hilltop settlement, sitting atop an enormous bluff and surrounded by strong walls is a jewel of Roman, Etruscan, medieval, and Renaissance art. It is a city of magnificent vistas from farmlands to mountain views. Volterra is rich in alabaster, an important industry of the city.