Nine hundred years ago Pisa was known as "the city of marvels" and it is still
worthy of the name today.
Though most famous for its leaning tower, Pisa has much more to offer. Of all
the monuments the first and foremost is, without doubt, the Campo dei Miracoli
one of the most famous sights in Italy and the world.
Here lies the Duomo, one of the world's major examples of
Pisan-Romanesque architecture, housing works of art such as the pulpit by Giovanni
Pisano. Begun in 1604 it is ornamented both inside and out with alternate bands
of green and cream marble .
The incredible main facade has four rows of columns forming tiers of loggias.
The bronze doors which face the Leaning Tower are by Bonanno Pisano.
In 1596 a devastating fire destroyed the original wooden doors and much of
the interior, large parts of which had to be entirely redecorated. However an
early 14th century pulpit by Giovanni Pisano and a mosaic of Christ in Majesty
by Cimabue, completed in 1302, survived. This magnificent and beautiful building
became a model for other cathedrals throughout Italy and richly deserves its
status as one of Pisa's "miracles".
Next to the Duomo stands the world-famous Leaning Tower now
re-opened after engineering works to stabilise the foundations.
The Tower of Pisa was built to show the rest of the world the wealth of the
city of Pisa. The people of Pisa were very good sailors and they conquered many
lands, but they had only one real enemy - Florence. To show the Florentines
how well they were doing they started to build a bell-tower to go with the rest
of the buildings near it - the Cathedral, Baptistery, and Cemetery. There is
doubt as to who initially planned the Tower. Tradition attributes the work to
Bonanno Pisano, in association with William of Innsbruck but recent research
suggests that the credit should go to Diotisalvi instead. However, according
to Vasari, the honour belongs to Nicola Pisano and his son Giovanni. Building
started in 1173 the first stone being laid on the 9th of August of that year.
After an interruption due to another war with Florence building re-started in
1180 and the tower was completed up to the third floor by 1185 when war with
Florence broke out once again. In this year the tower started to lean to one
side, so even before it was half-finished the tower was already leaning. Bells
were added to the third floor level in1198. After yet another war with Florence,
building started again in 1275 under Giovanni of Simone and lasted for nine
years between 1275 and 1284 when the six gallery floors were completed, and
when Pisa lost a big sea battle against Genoa. In 1319 the tower was finished
and the bell tower topped with bells in 1350. The tower is almost 56 metres
(185 feet) high and has an outside diameter of 15.5 metres (50 feet) at its
base where the walls are two and a half metres (8 feet) thick. The tower stands
eight stories high and weighs 14,700 metric tons. There are seven bells, the
largest of which was cast in 1655 and weighs three and a half tons.
Close by is the circular Baptistry, which is the largest of
its kind in Italy.
Dedicated to St. John the Baptist, the Baptistery is an imposing marble building,
circular in form which, together with the Cathedral, the Tower and the Camposanto
Monumentale, form the Piazza dei Miracoli. Begun in 1152 by Diotisalvi it was
continued about a century later by Nicola Pisano who added the airy loggia,
the setting for sculpture from the workshop of Nicola and Giovanni Pisano. The
crowning glory of this marvelous building is the 14th century dome surmounted
by a bronze figure of St. John the Baptist attributed to Turino di Sano. Of
the four portals, the one on the east side which opens onto the Cathedral is
the finest and most elaborate.
Other places of interest, less well known but well worth visiting are;
Piazza dei Cavalieri.
The ancient Piazza dei Sette Vie (Square of the Seven Roads) was transformed
by Cosimo di Medicic into the headquarters of the Knights of St. Stephen. Now
the seat of the Scuola Normale Superiore, the square is overlooked by the Palazzo
dell'Orologio, the Church of San Rocco, the Palazo del Collegio Puteano, the
Palazzo del Consiglio dei Dodici and the Canonica. The church of Santo Stephano
dei Cavalieri is an outstanding monument containing works by Vasari and Bronzino.
Museums. (Musei di Pisa)
Just within its ancient city wall Pisa boasts six museums housing vast and
varied collections containing works of outstanding artistic value dating from
the middle ages to the Renaissance and from the Baroque period to the 19th century.
Of particular interest is the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo near the leaning tower.
Here you can see many works of art from the Cathedral, The Baptistery and the
tower, including a magnificent Madonna by Giovanni Pisano. Other museums contain
painted crosses, ceramic bowls and fresco sketches which anticipate the Florentine
and Tuscan Renaissance.
The remains of a number of Roman ships, unearthed near the San Rossore railway
station, are on view at the Arsenal Medicei, Lungarno Simonelli.
Pisa City Walls. (Mura di Pisa).
In the mid-twelfth century the consul Cocco Griffi began the construction of
new fortified walls around the rich and powerful Pisan Republic. The ancient
walls of Pisa still form a circuit of about 7 kilometres. A short stretch, including
the Tower of Santa Maria is open to visitors.
Botanical Gardens. (Orto Botanico).
The Botanical Gardens of the University of Pisa were founded by Luca Ghini
when he accepted Cosimo the First's invitation to hold the Chair of Medicine
and Botany. In 1591 the gardens were moved to their present location. The gardens
are open all year and offer a vast range of plants picked by botanists all over
the world in the past centuries.
Nature Park. (Parco Naturale).
The nature park of Migliarino, San Rossore and Massaciuccoli extends over an
area of about 23,000 hectares along the coast between Viareggio and Livorno.
The park host a great variety of rare animal and plant species and is home to
the racecourse of San Rossore which is open from October to April.
Lively street markets, bars, good restaurants and a wide variety of shops,
all within a compact and friendly city complete the picture and make Pisa a
"must do" excursion.
It is probably best to leave your car in the car park near the Campo dei Miracoli
and walk or better still, take the train. (Pisa is about an hour by car from
Aulla down the coastal motorway , or a little longer by train from Aulla station).
If you are in the area around Casola or Equi Terme why not get the direct local
train - reliable, good fun, and cheap!
Festivals and events in Pisa.
Pisa is a lively city and celebrates its historical events and traditions with
gusto and good humour. Although there are many events in both the city and the
wider province of Pisa we have chosen to concentrate on just the main three
in this section. For details of other events in Tuscany and Liguria throughout
the year go to Festival and events.
In Pisa city the three main events held each year are;
The Luminara di S. Ranieri. Candlelit festivities and fireworks celebrating
St. Ranieri the patron saint of the city. The event takes place on the eve of
the patron saint's feast day (June 16)
The Regata di S. Ranieri. A rowing race on the Arno between the four ancient
quarters of the city whose rowers wear the traditional colours of their quarter.
Held on the 17th June each year - the feast day of St. Ranieri.
Il Gioco del Ponte. The Game of the Bridge. Held on the last Sunday in June
this is a "push-of war" in medieval costume between the north and south sides
of the river. Each side tries to push a large "cart" over the bridge into the
enemy's territory and knock down their standard.
The Luminara di S. Ranieri.
On the 25th of March1688 an urn containing the mortal remains of St. Ranieri
was placed in the Cappella dell' Incoronata in the Cathedral and the Cathedral
dedicated to the saint who is patron of the city. Since that time the "Illumination
of Pisa" has taken place on the eve of the saint's feast day (i.e. on the 16th
June) to mark and celebrate the event turning the lungarni into a fairy-tale
setting. The palaces and houses, the parapets and bridges, and the river itself
glow in the reflected light of over 70,000 small lamps while thousands of lighted
candles float on the waters of the Arno, whilst a firework spectacle at the
Cittadella Vecchia make this event a spectacular not to be missed.
The Regata di S. Ranieri.
The Regatta is held on June 17th, the feast day of the city's patron saint,
and is contested by the four 'historical' quarters of the city - S. Maria (white-blue),
S. Francesco (white-yellow), S. Antonio (white-green), S. Martino (white-red).
The race takes place rowing against the current on a 1,500 meter-long stretch
of the Arno. Victory goes to the crew whose 'montatore' is the first to tear
off the banner mounted on a large vessel anchored in the centre of the river.
The competition dates back to the 13th century when the races were disputed
on land and on water, generally on the feast of the Assumption. In addition
to the banner or palio, the winners of these competitions received prizes in
kind, particularly animals: an ox, a sheep, a pig, a rooster, while a duck was
given to the loser and the crew deemed to have finished last still receives
the traditional consolation. After having lapsed in the period of Florentine
domination, the tradition was once more introduced for the feast of the Assumption
in 1635. Some of the ships which took part in the 'palio' dedicated to Saint
Ranieri in 1718 were named after the galleys of the Order of the Knights of
St. Stephen which had taken part in the victorious battle of Lepanto against
the Turks. In 1737 the specific features of the Regatta of S. Ranieri began
to be defined concerning the area of the contest and the arrival, eventually
becoming one of the most deeply rooted traditions which is still alive today.
Il Gioco del Ponte.
Disputed in the last Sunday in June, the Gioco del Ponte is undoubtedly the
event Pisans feel most strongly about. On that one day they relive the heated
rivalry between the city's factions in a grand trial of strength between the
ancient quarters of the city.
The Gioco del Ponte virtually closes the events of the Giugno Pisano, and the
city is jammed with people (generally there are no less than 100,000 spectators,
sometimes many more).
The actual contest is preceded by a great procession with participants (about
750 in all) wearing medieval armour and costumes and carrying the banners of
the participating teams.
The Gioco del Ponte is a historical re-enactment evoking the proud warrior
tradition of the parties, who fight for possession of the bridge, no longer
with maces and shields but challenging each other in a trial of strength which
consists in pushing a heavy trolley (seven tons) set on tracks fifty meters
long. The final victory goes to the party which has won the greatest number
of battles, pushing the trolley into the enemy field and knocking over the staff
and banner of the enemy party.
The origins of the game are lost in the mists of time (a legend attributes
its institution to Pelops, the mythical founder of Pisa, who wanted to recall
his native Olympic Games; another to the Roman emperor Hadrian who attempted
to present a Pisan version of gladiatorial combats on the shores of the Arno;
and still another has it that the Games were instituted in memory of the battle
on the bridge between Pisans and Saracens.
Mention of a Gioco del Ponte does appear in 1490. It was Lorenzo the Magnificent
who decided to transfer the game into its natural setting. Previously, as far
back as could be remembered a sort of medieval tournament called Gioco del Mazzascudo
had been held in the piazza delle Sette Vie (now piazza dei Cavalieri) between
the Parties of the Rooster and the Magpie and which was thought to be the ancestor
of the present Game. Originally the Gioco del Ponte took place twice a year:
January 17th, the day of Saint Anthony Abbot, was the date of the so-called
'Battagliaccia', a sort of dress rehearsal of the 'Battaglia Generale' which
almost always took place on the occasion of visits to Pisa of the various rulers
and other noble guests. It continued to be held until 1782 when it was suppressed
by Pietro Leopoldo on grounds of public order. After an extraordinary edition
(1807) it lapsed into oblivion until it was re-introduced in 1935. Suspended
because of the war, it returned to the bridge from 1950 to 1963. After another
lengthy interruption, the event returned to its original magnificence in the
edition of 1982.