Pisa Introduction Walk (Self Guided), Pisa

Italy as a nation has been home to much great art and many great artists for centuries now. And Pisa is one of its beautiful cities, having been home to many of these inspiring creators. This orientation walk will lead you to the most interesting architectural edifices in the city.
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Pisa Introduction Walk Map

Guide Name: Pisa Introduction Walk
Guide Location: Italy » Pisa (See other walking tours in Pisa)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 14
Tour Duration: 3 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.1 Km or 2.5 Miles
Author: nicole
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Piazza dei Miracoli
  • Camposanto Monumentale
  • Duomo di Pisa
  • The Leaning Tower
  • Palazzo Arcivescovile
  • Orto Botanico
  • Palazzo della Carovana
  • Piazza dei Cavalieri
  • Borgo Stretto
  • Ponte di Mezzo
  • Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II
  • The Mural by Keith Haring
  • Santa Maria della Spina
  • Museo Nazionale di Palazzo Reale
Piazza dei Miracoli

1) Piazza dei Miracoli (must see)

The Piazza dei Miracoli is, of course, at the top of your “must see” list. It is the most famous and most visited square in Europe after Saint Peter’s Square in Rome. It is a walled area and its true name is the Piazza de Duomo (Cathedral Square) but the writer Gabriele D’Annunzio dubbed it the Square of Miracles in one of his books and the name stuck. A lot of people misguidedly call it the “Campo dei Miracoli” (Field of Miracles) but that field was invented by Carlo Collodi in his book “The Adventures of Pinocchio”. In his book, two scoundrels, the Cat and the Fox, told Pinocchio that if he planted his gold there it would grow into money trees.

The square is made up of an area that is partly paved and partly neatly trimmed lawns and the most famous buildings of Pisa are to be found there. These buildings are said to represent the four stages of man. If we take them in these stages rather than in chronological order, we start with the Baptistery, dedicated to St John the Baptist, it was built in 1153 and represents Birth. The Cathedral was built in 1064 and it portrays Life, while the Speciale Nuova di Santo Spirito (the New Hospital of the Holy Spirit), built in 1257, represents Illness and the end of life. The Camposanto Monumentale (the cemetery), built in 1278, of course represents Death. The bell tower – the Leaning Tower – doesn’t come into the allegory, but if you are in a whimsical frame of mind you might say that it represents the rather shaky path men take between Life and Death!
Camposanto Monumentale

2) Camposanto Monumentale (must see)

The Camposanto Monumentale stands at the northern edge of the Piazza dei Miracoli and took its name “Monumentale” to distinguish it from other later cemeteries. The cemetery is said to have been built around sacred earth brought back from Golgotha in the 12th century by the Archbishop of Pisa, Ubaldo de’Lanfranchi. According to legend bodies buried here decay within 24 hours. The cemetery was the fourth and last building to be erected on the square and it stands on the ruins of the first Baptistery. It is an oblong shaped Gothic style building started by di Simone in 1278. Building was completed in 1464. At the beginning of its construction, it was intended to be a church, but the plans were changed after the western end was completed.

The outer wall has 43 blind arches and two doorways. Over the right-hand entrance you will see a tabernacle containing sculptures of the Virgin and Child and four Saints, created in the 14th century by Giovanni Pisano. Most of the tombs are under the arches, once there were a lot of Roman sarcophagi, but today only 84 remain. The building houses three chapels: the Chapel Ammannati is the oldest, dating back to 1360; the Chapel Aulla was built in 1518 and has an altar made by della Robbia; the Chapel Dal Pozzo was added in 1594. In 1944 American bombing caused a fire which destroyed most of the Camposanto’s marvelous frescoes. These were removed and ongoing restoration work began on them in 1954 with the intention of returning them to their original places.
Duomo di Pisa

3) Duomo di Pisa (must see)

The Duomo is the medieval Cathedral that stands on the Piazza dei Miracoli (Place of Miracles) and it is a fine example of Italian-Romanesque architecture.

Busketo began work on the building in 1064 and his tomb is built into the façade, which was built by Rainaldo in white stone and grey marble with coloured marble discs. You will see an inscription about the foundation of the Cathedral and Pisa’s victory against the Saracens.

On the eastern end of the building there is the replica of the Pisa Griffon. The 11th century original, which is the largest known Islamic metal sculpture, is to be found in the Cathedral Museum.

The huge bronze doors were added after the original wooden ones were destroyed by fire in 1595. Above the doors are four rows of open galleries; there is a statue of the Madonna and Child and the Four Evangelists. Worshippers usually enter the church by a door built in 1180 by Pisano on the bell tower side of the cathedral.

The interior of the cathedral has black and white marble facings and the mosaics are in Byzantine style. The granite Corinthian columns come from the mosque in Palermo, which was captured by Pisa in 1063.

The gilded ceiling and frescoed dome were restored after the 1595 fire, as was the nave’s coffer ceiling. The fresco of “Christ in Majesty with the Virgin Mary and St John the Evangelist”, which you will find in the apse, luckily survived the fire.
The Leaning Tower

4) The Leaning Tower (must see)

No one leaves Pisa without visiting the famous Leaning Tower, which is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world. It is the bell tower of the nearby Cathedral, although the bells have been removed to lessen the weight at the top of the tower. Building began in 1173 and its pronounced lilt was noticed when three storeys had been completed. This lilt was caused by soil subsidence and work was ceased to allow the ground to “settle”. Letting the earth settle wasn’t the only reason that the tower took so long to finish, as Tuscany was frequently at war with its neighbors and man-power was often scarce. When work recommenced the upper floors were built higher on one side to make the tower seem straighter than it actually was.

The tower has eight storeys, it is over 55 metres high, it has 207 arched columns and a spiral stairway with 297 steps to the top. The ground floor, which has blind arcades, has a richly carved portal topped by animal grotesques. Subsidence continues at a rate of about 1 millimeter a year, in spite of several attempts to stop the erosion. For a while lead weights were added at the base and on the third floor and buildings opposite were evacuated as it seemed that the tower would fall. Before rescue work was carried out between 1999 and 2001 the tower leaned at an angle of 5.5 degrees. 38 cubic metres of earth were removed from the raised side, which straightened the tower by 45 centimeters. In 2008 another 70 tons were removed and experts say that the tower should be stable for at least another 200 years. Today it leans at an angle of 3.99 degrees.
Palazzo Arcivescovile

5) Palazzo Arcivescovile

The seat of the Archbishop of Pisa is located in Piazza dell'Arcivescovado. Dating from the 15th century, it features a simple, but solemn façade that makes an interesting contrast between the plaster and profiling in stone on the corners. The window frames and gables have stone corners, while the large portal is flanked by two columns supporting a balcony on the floor above.
Orto Botanico

6) Orto Botanico (must see)

While you are in Pisa you shouldn’t miss a chance to spend an hour or so in the peaceful Orto Botanico, which is managed by the University. Cosimo de Medici first thought of creating the garden in 1544 and he commissioned Luca Ghini, the famous botanist, to lay it out on land beside the river. In 1563 it was moved next to the Santa Maria Convent and then to its present location in 1591. The first plants were solely grown for medicinal purposes, but gradually, as the garden was enlarged and fountains installed, other species were planted and the garden now boasts over 140 different species, including orchids, coffee, pepper and papaya.

There is an arboretum with an artificial lake and a magnolia tree that is 220 years old. Other collections include Mediterranean geophytes, tropical plants and pharaonic flora. The garden is divided into sections containing ponds, greenhouses, the Botanical School and various other buildings, including the 16th century old botany institute with its façade decorated with sea shells. The garden’s library is now part of the university library and the natural objects in the garden are part of the Natural History Museum. In the Botanical School are the portraits of all the garden’s former directors.
Palazzo della Carovana

7) Palazzo della Carovana

The Palazzo della Carovana stands on Knight’s Square and is the home of the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa. Built on the site of the former Palazzo degli Anziana in 1564 by Giorgio Vasari, it was commissioned by the Order of the Knights of Saint Stephen. Its name “la Carovana” or “the Convoy” refers to the three year training period undertaken by members of the Order. The Knights of Saint Stephen were an order founded by Cosimo de Medici in 1561 to fight Ottoman pirates who roamed the Mediterranean. The order was abolished in 1859.

The palace’s façade is ornately decorated with sgraffiti that represent the signs of the zodiac and allegorical figures from mythology. The originals were sculpted by del Verrocchio and Forzori from designs by Vasari. They were renovated and renewed in the early 20th century. The sculptures include the Medici coat of arms and those of the Order. The statues representing Justice and Religion were executed by Lorenzi in 1563. On the upper gallery of the palace you will see various busts of the Grand Dukes of Tuscany. These were sculpted by Foggini, Sirigatti and Tacca and added in the early 18th century. The back of the palace was rebuilt in 1930 to house the expanding school.
Piazza dei Cavalieri

8) Piazza dei Cavalieri (must see)

The Piazza dei Cavalieri is the second most important square in Pisa and has some of the most distinguished buildings in the city. In Roman times the square was called the Piazza del Sette Vie (Square of the Seven Streets), the church San Sebastiano alle Fabbriche Maggiori was built in 1047 and in 1140 the square became the city’s administrative centre. In 1254 the Palace of the People and the Elders was built. This palace later became the Palazzo della Carovana and the home of the Order of the Knights of St Stephen. A statue of Cosimo de Medici stands beside a fountain in front of the palace. Both the statue and the fountain were sculpted by Francavilla.

To the north of the square you will see the Palazzo dell’Orologio, which was turned into the infirmary for the knights. To make one building they built an arch between two ancient towers. The tower on the right of the arch has a rather gruesome history. In the 13th century Count Ugolini, the suspected traitor, and his sons were sealed up in the tower and left to starve to death. The count’s sons died first and Ugolini fed off their dead bodies, until he in his turn, died too. To the south of the square you will find the Palazzo del Consiglio dei Dodici. Most of the buildings today belong to the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa.
Borgo Stretto

9) Borgo Stretto (must see)

If you want to do some shopping or simply wander through the narrow streets of medieval Pisa, you should go to the Borgo Stretto. This long street that at the crossing with via San Francesco, joins via Guglielmo Oberdan, is mostly pedestrian and filled with shops from simple stores selling books and souvenirs to some of the most exclusive shops in the city. Most of the street is lined on each side with arcades, the arches of which are supported by Corinthian columns. In the arcades you will find plenty of bars, restaurants and shops selling fresh pasta. Over the arched entrance to the Café Settimelli a sign proudly announces that this was once the house of the Galilei family and that Galileo was born there.

The two and three storey houses over the loggias on each side of the street were once the homes of rich merchant families and on the corner of via San Francesco you will find the Palazzo Poschi. There are plenty of narrow side streets leading off Borgo Stretta and some of these open onto delightful squares were open air markets sell flowers and fresh fruit and vegetables. You will also find the beautiful ancient church of San Michele in Borgo on the stretto.
Ponte di Mezzo

10) Ponte di Mezzo

To get from the Gambacorti Lungarno on the Mezzoiorno side of the River Arno to the Mediceo Lungarno on the Tramontana side, you will cross the river by the Ponte Mezzo. In Roman times a wooden bridge spanned the river a little further upstream. This bridge was replaced by a stone one in 1035 and was restored in 1388. In 1635 it collapsed and was rebuilt in 1660. The “new” bridge was an elegant affair with three arches and carved balustrades and named “Mezzo” as it was (more-or-less) in the centre of the city. This bridge was destroyed in 1944 during wartime bombing.

The bridge you will cross today was built in 1950 out of reinforced concrete sheathed in white Verona stone. It is 89 metres long and had one arch of 72 metres. At the four corners of the bridge are marbles globes from the former bridge. In the centre of the bridge you will see the Pisan cross laid out in white stone paving. If you are lucky enough to be in the city in June, you will certainly take part in the Giugno Pisano – a series of carnivals that re-enact historical events. The highlight of the Giugno is the Bridge Game, held on the last Saturday of the month, when rival teams from the Mezzoiorno and the Tramontana “battle” for control of the bridge. The two teams of twenty pit their strength against each other by pushing against a heavy cart set on tracks in the middle of the bridge. The team who manages to push the cart to the “enemy” camp, wins the game.
Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II

11) Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II

Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II is a big square which ends the Italia street, situated near the railway station. It is made of the demolished medieval walls of the city and the San Gilio gate. Its center erects the monument to Vittorio Emanuele II. There is a great variety of exotic medieval flavours which can be found in this square.
Sight description based on wikipedia
The Mural by Keith Haring

12) The Mural by Keith Haring

“Tuttomondo” - the peace and harmony of the world, this is the name of the mural. Sant’Antonio Convent is hosting the brilliant graffity. Pisa’s mural has 180 meters and it is a fine piece of modern art. It was painted by Keith Haring (1958 - 1990), who was known for his special "Subway Drawings”.
Santa Maria della Spina

13) Santa Maria della Spina (must see)

Santa Maria della Spina is a small Gothic church, erected in 1230, originally known as Santa Maria di Pontenovo: the new name of Spina ("thorn"). In 1871 the church was dismantled and rebuilt on a higher level due to dangerous infiltration of water from the Arno river: the church was slightly altered in the process, however.

The church is one of the most outstanding Gothic edifices of Europe: it has a rectangular plant, with an external facing wholly composed of marble, laid in polychrome bands. If compared to the rich exterior, the interior appears quite simple. It has a single room, with a ceiling painted during the 19th century reconstruction. In the presbytery's centre is one of the highest masterpieces of Gothic sculpture, the Madonna of the Rose by Andrea and Nino Pisano. On the left wall is the tabernacle in which once was the crown's relic.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Museo Nazionale di Palazzo Reale

14) Museo Nazionale di Palazzo Reale (must see)

There is much more to Pisa than its Leaning Tower, and it would be a shame if you missed a visit to the Museo Nazionale di Palazzo Reale, although it might be a good idea to check up on opening times first. This little visited museum is housed in an elegant building designed in the 16th century by Buontalenti. It stands on the banks of the River Arno and was once lived in by illustrious families: the Medici’s, the Lorena’s and the Savoia’s all left their mark on this lovely palace. Today the building is mostly administrative offices, but 20 rooms have been kept for the museum. These rooms are full of furnishings and the private collections of the families who once lived here. There is also armor once used in the Gioco del Ponte (the Bridge Game).

The items date from the 17th to the 19th centuries and include manuscripts, portraits and paintings and the Flemish and Florentine tapestries that belonged to the Medici’s. You will also be able to admire a predella panel from the polyptych of Saint Nicolas of Tolentino. A predella was the painting along the frame at the bottom of an altarpiece, usually depicting scenes from the life of the subject in the main panel. The predella in the museum was executed in 1500 by Raphael.

Opening hours: Monday-Saturday: 9 am- 2 pm; Closed on Tuesdays and Sundays.

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