Things to do in Pisa
What to see in Pisa: most visited Pisa attractions.
Visit Pisa Italy beyond the Leaning Tower: The main attractions in Pisa and in the surrounding area
Visiting Pisa in one day ... is not a good idea. Unless you just want to glance at the Leaning Tower, a proper visit to Pisa may require at least one weekend.
However, if you really have little time and you have just got one day to explore one of the most beautiful cities in the world, I would like to recommend this itinerary.
You can download the map of Pisa on which I will highlight an interesting itinerary.
Departure: Station - Corso Italia!
Our itinerary starts at the Pisa Centrale railway station (1), and, following the numbers on the map, you can easily understand our direction....
It is worth stressing that the Pisa Centrale railway station is one of the main railway hub in Tuscany, which connects several national lines. Its construction dates back to the nineteenth century as a replacement of the old Leopolda railway, situated near the previous one, in Piazza Guerrazzi (Guerrazzi Square), which was an important cargo facility until 1929, when the plant definitively fell into disuse.
Currently, Leopolda has become a gathering place for cultural and social activities, equipped with a multimedia centre, a rehearsal room for theatre, music and dance performances, a comics library a game room, thus perfectly exploiting the large size of the historic building with two aisles separated by an arcade.
Then go back to the starting point: leave the central station behind and reach Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II (Victor Emmanuel II Square) (2), whose current appearance is the result of a urban refurbishment dating back to the nineteenth century, which included the demolition of the old medieval walls and of Porta San Gillio (San Gillio Gate), the gate which once marked the beginning of the current Corso Italia, also known as Carraia del Carmine and leading precisely to the station.
Recent works, completed in 2012, renovated the image of the square, which has entirely turned into a pedestrian area with access granted only to the means of public transport. Its new beauty is especially enhanced by the Matraia stone, used for the flooring, and the ancient fundaments of the medieval walls. The renovated square provides an overall view which combines the Domus Mazziniana, where Giuseppe Mazzini spent the last years of his life and died - enriched with the adjacent museum where his writings and essays are kept -, and S. Antonio Square, with the impressive wall painting by the American artist Keith Haring, situated nearby.
Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II, moreover, is overlooked by Palazzo delle Poste Centrali (Central Post Office), which still keeps its interior original structure with Neo-Romanesque and Neo-Gothic decorations, and Palazzo dell’Amministrazione Provinciale (Provincial Administration Building) (3). Once in the square, take the famous Corso Italia, the main pedestrian axis in the city.
Along Corso Italia, after about 400 m, you will find our your right Piazza del Carmine (Carmine Square) (4), featuring a church of the fourteenth century and a convent, built by the Carmelites. The niches contain the statues of "St. Elias" and "John the Baptist" (1697), while the interior, characterised by a single-aisle plan, is richly-decorated and keeps a small memorial stone which marks the two-meter height reached by the water of the Arno river during the 1869 flood.
On the outside, conversely, the small church porch features a monument dedicated to the sculptor Nicola Pisano.
Later, further along Corso Italia, you will see on your right Piazza Chiara Gambacorti (Chiara Gambacorti Square), better known as Piazza della Pera (Pear Square) (5) with a church and the adjacent cemetery of San Lorenzo in Chinzica, recently involved in archaeological investigations. In the Thirties, the square hosted a vegetable market but, after a gas leak which destroyed a large part of it, it was abandoned and only in the Nineties, thanks to a refurbishment plan, the reconstruction work of the missing part of the building could finally begin and the square acquired its current appearance, becoming a meeting place especially suitable for shows and concerts in summer.
Always along Corso Italia, you will find on your left the Logge dei Banchi (Stall Loggia) (6), whose name precisely refers to the wool and silk stalls of the market held there in the past; even today, this place sometimes hosts various street markets. The arcade was built between 1603 and 1605 and includes an impressive colonnade dating back to the XVII century, with twelve pillars. Since 1865 it has been the seat of the National Archives of Pisa, while in the basement of the Loggia it is possible to see the public baths tracing back to the early twentieth century, recently reopened.
Just up ahead, you will come across Piazza del Comune (Municipality Square) (7) with Palazzo Gambacorti (Gambacorti Palace) (8), built in the fourteenth century in the Gothic style and owned by the Gambacorti family, which is one of the most famous buildings situated along the bank of the Arno river. The portal still bears the emblem of the Medici family and the palace now hosts the Town Council. Inside the building, it is possible to admire some frescoes depicting the maritime victories of Pisa.
Farther on along the Gambacorti embankment, there is Palazzo Blu (Blue Palace): the colour of the façade is original and has been found under the more recent paint layers of paint. The choice of this colour can be probably attributed to some guests from Saint Petersburg who stayed at the palace at those times. The latter enjoyed a strategic position at the mouth of the bridge and, for this reason, in the middle of the fourteenth century, it was the seat of the first and only "Doge" of Pisa. Recently it has been restored by the Pisa Foundation and is managed by the “Palazzo Blu” Foundation; it hosts some temporary exhibitions, a permanent exhibition of the Foundation art collections including furniture, paintings and sculptures. The access to the collections is free.
Near the palace, you will find the ancient Church of Santa Cristina (35) dating back to the ninth century., which belonged to the Canons of the Cathedral.
Farther on along the Gambacorti embankment, you will come across the Church della Spina (34) in a Pisan Gothic style, one of the most peculiar in Europe. The church underwent several restorations due to the failure of the soil resulting from the proximity to the Arno river. On the outside, it is richly decorated, while the interior is very simple, featuring a single-aisle plan with an adorned ceiling.
Finally, just up ahead, on a beautiful green square, you will find the Church of San Paolo a Ripa d’Arno (33), also known as “Duomo Vecchio” (Old Cathedral), dating back to the eleventh century and mentioned among the best examples of Romanesque architecture: it is characterised by an Egyptian cross plan, although it underwent subsequent modifications; nearby you will be able to visit also the former Convent of the Benedictine nuns with a chapel dedicated to St. Agatha on the back.
I Lungarni (The Arno embankment)
Going back towards Piazza del Comune (Town Square), cross the river and continue the tour of the city: you will reach Ponte di Mezzo (Middle Bridge) (10) also called Ponte "Conte Ugolino," (“Count Ugolino” Bridge), when “Middle” refers to its ideal position in the heart of the city, connecting Piazza Garibaldi (Garibaldi Square) in the north and Piazza XX Settembre (XX Settembre Square) in the south, where Palazzo Pretorio (Praetorian Palace), the City Hall and the Stall Loggia are situated. Until the twelfth century, in Pisa there was only one bridge which connected the two banks of the Arno river, situated near the church of Santa Cristina. Originally, the bridge was made of wood, but was destroyed by several fires over the centuries, and then was rebuilt using concrete. This reconstruction was interpreted by the citizens of Pisa as the symbol of reconstruction of the city, therefore a referendum was held among the population to decide the final project.
On June, the bridge hosts an ancient game, the "Game of the bridge", in which two rival teams, respectively belonging to the ancient northern and southern district, after having paraded with their typical costumes, confront each other on the bridge: they have to push a cart on a rail towards the other end of the bridge. The game is won by team which defeats its opponent more times.
Now our itinerary continues along Lungarno Galileo Galilei (Galileo Galilei embankment) (11) on the right, where you will admire the overlooking picturesque buildings, including Palazzo Lanfranchi (Lanfranchi Palace) (12), once inhabited by the Lanfranchi family in the sixteenth century, now the seat of some exhibitions as well as of the Museo della Grafica (Graphics Museum). It keeps the university collections of the Department of Drawings, the prints of the Department of History of Art and some collections of contemporary graphics.
Between Via San Martino and the Arno embankment, you will come across the Church of San Sepolcro (13) located in the square of the same name. The church dates back to the twelfth century and was named after the crusade led by Daiberto, the Archbishop of Pisa, after which the Pisans, once come back home, wanted to erect a building to be used as a church, hospital, hotel and convent. For this reason, it was dedicated to the Templars, opting for a peculiar octagonal plan.
Farther on, along the Medicean Arno embankment, you will see Palazzo Toscanelli (Toscanelli Palace) (19) built in a nineteenth-century style, which is actually the result of a series of works carried out over time. The building, now the seat of the National Archives, was initially situated on the Stall Loggia, but became famous because the writer Lord Byron stayed there!
Just up ahead, you will notice the Church of San Matteo (16) built in the eleventh century with the adjacent Museum of San Matteo (17), a former convent of the Benedictine nuns. Its current single-aisle plan was rearranged in the seventeenth century; while in the eighteenth century the interior was decorated with sumptuous Baroque frescoes depicting the Glory of San Matteo (Saint Matthew) on the vault and the history of the life of San Matteo by Sebastiano Conca, Francesco Trevisani, Jacopo Zoboli. On the altar there is a crucifix dating back to the thirteenth century.
A little farther on there is another bridge, Ponte della Fortezza (Stronghold Bridge) (14), originally called Ponte della Spina (Thorn Bridge), which was built in 1957, also made of concrete and with its flanks and masts covered with freestone.
At the end of the walk along this side of the Arno river, go back to Ponte di Mezzo, where you will come across other historic buildings, including Palazzo dei Medici (Palazzo Medici) (17), also known as Palazzo Vecchio (Old Palace), which had belonged first to the Appiano family and then to the Medici family since 1446, thus becoming the residence of Piero Cosimo il Vecchio, while Lorenzo the Magnificent stayed often there.
In 1871 the building was refurbished, thus shifting from a medieval to a Gothic style, with the replacement of the old two- and three-light windows and the addition of a crenelated terracotta tower. The building now hosts the Prefecture.
Nearby you will admire Palazzo Roncioni dating back to the fourteenth century (Roncioni Palace) (18) also called “Scalo Roncioni” (Roncioni commercial port) built around the first half of the seventeenth century, embellished with stone decorations. It is famous because important guests such as Ugo Foscolo, Madame de Staël and Vittorio Alfieri were received there by the ancient Roncioni family of Pisa. Opposite the palace, there is Scalo Roncioni, one of the few commercial ports recalling the ancient maritime and commercial potential of the city, now hosting a nightclub.
Finally you will reach Piazza Cairoli or della Berlina (Cairoli or Pillory Square) (20), which used to be a market square in the past. It is named after the ancient custom of tying the criminals to a post, still visible at the centre of the square, who were “placed in the stock" for a few days and mocked by the people. The pillory disappeared in Tuscany with the law of 1786 which prohibited torture and death executions. Now the square is an evening meeting place enlivened by small pubs and cafés where it is possible to socialize and enjoy the view of the river bank.
Near the square, there is the Church of San Pierino in Vinculis (21) built by the Augustinians between the end of the eleventh and the beginning of the twelfth century. It is famous for having kept the Digest manuscripts of Justinian I, commonly known as the Corpus Iuris Civilis, consulted only by few jurists authorized for study purposes. Currently, they are some of the oldest and most precious manuscripts kept at the Laurentian Library in Florence.
Our walk across Pisa continues on the opposite side of the river, along the Pacinotti embankment (22) which connects Ponte di Mezzo with Ponte Solferino (Solferino Bridge) (23), the third bridge of Pisa, which was originally called “Ponte Nuovo” (New Bridge) as it was more recent than the other two. It was destroyed during the Second World War, then it was rebuilt but collapsed in the 1966 flood of the Arno river. Finally it was erected once again with its current structure.
This itinerary includes also other historical buildings like Palazzo Reale (Royal Palace) (24) built upon request of Francesco I de' Medici with a special large arch connecting the church of San Nicola on one side and Casa delle Vedove (Widows’ House) on the other, i.e. the house of the Medici family through which the women of the family passed to go to the church. The building currently hosts the Superintendency and the National Museum, which keeps the tapestries and the furniture which decorated the rooms of the palace. It is also worth mentioning the collection of the ancient instruments used in the Game of the Bridge, including over 900 pieces.
Palazzo Lanfreducci (Lanfreducci Palace) (25) was called Palazzo della Giornata (Day Palace) by the Pisans, because of the motto chosen by its owner, the knight of Malta Francesco Lanfreducci il Vecchio, who placed this inscription on the portal of his residence to stress the precariousness of human life. The motto actually means “on the day of the battle” and represented a challenge mounted to a rival. Near the palace there is also a tower, Torre dei Lanfreducci (Lanfreducci Tower), which is one of the oldest and best preserved towers in Pisa. The palace now hosts the office of the Rector of the University of Pisa.
In the surrounding area it is possible to admire the church of Madonna dei Galletti (26) near the ancient Porta Aurea (Golden Gate). The façade of the church dates back to the eighteenth century, while the interior has a single-aisle plan with a chapel situated on each side and a golden wooden ceiling.
We have almost finished our walk along the river banks: now you will reach Lungarno Simonelli (Simonelli embankment) (27) overlooked by the Old Citadel with the Guelph Tower (28) and the Medicean Arsenals (29): the first two served as a stronghold, both in the Middle Ages and in the Medicean times, while the Arsenals were used as a warehouse and shipyard.
The Citadel was an ancient stronghold facing the sea, where the Pisan ships were launched. The current Guelph Tower is not the original one, as the latter was destroyed in 1944 during the Second World War bombings. The tower, after its reconstruction, is open to the public and offers a breath-taking view of the city. It is called Cittadella Vecchia (Old Citadel) to distinguish it from Cittadella Nuova (New Citadel), which is located on the opposite side of the bridge and is now called Giardino di Scotto (Scotto’s Garden), created in 1440.
Near the citadel, as already mentioned, it is possible to visit the Museo delle Antiche Navi Medicee (Museum of the Ancient Medicean Ships.) The museum keeps the records relating to the discovery of the remains of an ancient port, built upon request of Cosimo I de’ Medici, as well as 19 ship wrecks of various size dating back to a period between the end of the Hellenistic and the Late Antique period.
Also the adjacent Ponte della Cittadella (Bridge of the Citadel) (30) was initially made of wood and dates back to the fourteenth century: it was destroyed several times and then always rebuilt. It is known as “Ponte a Mare” (Sea Bridge), hence the name of the district. Once crossed the bridge, you will go back to the other side of the Arno river along Lungarno Sonnino (Sonnino embankment) (31), where you will find Porta a Mare (32), an ancient gate under the arch of the Citadel, featuring a marble tabernacle of the seventeenth century which contains a painting depicting Madonna dei Navicellai protected by a shrine.
Borgo Stretto (Narrow Village)
At the end of the embankment tour, a walk towards the heart of the city is absolutely mandatory to get an idea of the city in just one day!
Back near Ponte di Mezzo, on the Pacinotti embankment side, you will reach Piazza Garibaldi (Garibaldi Square) (36), precisely dedicated to Giuseppe Garibaldi. Behind the statue situated in the centre of the square, there is a building called ''Casino de Nobili'' (Palace of the Nobles), because it was originally inhabited by rich Pisan families.
At the end of the square, you will enter Borgo Stretto (37), a kind of extension of Corso Italia beyond the bridge.
This district dates back to the Middle Ages and has always had a commercial function, because its arcades hosted (and still host, although with a more contemporary look) various shops which have replaced the old workshops. Sometimes, during a walk, it is possible to glimpse at some historical evidence.
This itinerary includes the Church of San Michele in Borgo (38), which belonged to the Benedictine and, in the Middle Ages, to the Camaldolese monks. The façade was built in the Pisan Romanesque style with some Gothic traits, featuring some engravings of the seventeenth century which celebrated the election of the rector of the University. The upper part includes some loggias and a tabernacle with the Madonna and Child, while the interior has a three-aisle plan with an ancient crucifix, some paintings and the remains of frescoes of the thirteenth and eighteenth century.
Once crossed the colonnade of Borgo Stretto, you may turn right in Via San Lorenzo and walk along it until you reach Piazza S. Caterina (S. Caterina Square) (39), where you will find the Pisan Gothic church of S. Caterina (41), which belonged to the Dominicans, and the Seminary Palace (42).
Over the years, the building has undergone numerous refurbishment works after a fire and the Second World War. The gabled façade is made of white and grey marble, while the bell tower is made of terracotta and the interior has a single-aisle plan with transept. The main altar features a very nice painting by Raffaello Vanni depicting St. Catherine receiving the stigmata.
The green square is also overlooked by the seat of the Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies (40), a special-statute public university operating in the field of applied sciences, including economics and management, medicine and engineering, as well as in the field of research and training on a global scale, establishing itself as a benchmark both in Italy and abroad.
Turning again towards the village, on the left along Via Consoli del Mare, you will reach another important town square, Piazza dei Cavalieri (Knights’ Square) (43) dedicated to the Order of Saint Stephen, which keeps a series of war trophies, such as the precious flags taken from the Turks, as well as some ancient ship lights placed on large windows. The interior has a single-aisle plan with a particular decoration depicting the deeds of the knights of the Order of Saint Stephen.
This square is surrounded by various buildings, which once hosted the offices of the ''public authorities”: Palazzo dell’Orologio (Clock Palace) (44), a medieval building where the Capitano del popolo (Captain of the people) used to live, with the adjoining Torre della fame (Muda Tower) where Count Ugolino Della Gherardesca was immured and starved to death with his children and grandsons, an episode narrated by Dante in his Divine Comedy. The palace also served as the infirmary of the Order of Saint Stephen.
It later became the Scuola Normale of Pisa, founded as a higher education school by Napoléon Bonaparte based on the Ecole Normale in Paris, while the tower was used as the school library and an underground passage was built to connect it to
Piazza dei Cavalieri.
Near Piazza dei Cavalieri, you will find the picturesque Piazza delle Vettovaglie (Victuals Square) (47), which was also called Piazza dei Porci (Pigs’ Square) or Piazza del Grano (Wheat Square) in the Middle Ages, as it hosted various markets, and still does today, featuring numerous stalls, wine shops and workshops.
From a small street, you will get to Piazza Dante Alighieri (Dante Alighieri Square) (48), a meeting place for university students, while Via Corsica leads to the ancient church of San Sisto (49), which was built in the twelfth century in Romanesque style and initially was the seat of the most important notarial deeds of the Municipality of Pisa. It was consecrated in 1133 and dedicated to Saint Sixtus, the first ancient patron of Pisa.
Now, take Via Martiri and, just up ahead on your left, turn into Via Cardinal Ferdinando Capponi, which will lead you to one of the most famous squares in the world.
In the background, you will see, in fact, the imposing Leaning Tower (50) with a height of over 50 meters and a weight of approximately 15,000 tons: its peculiar tilt is due to a failure of the clay soil, which began in the early stages of its construction, making the tower the most popular one in the world.
Its construction began in 1173 and soon started to tilt. Being the bell tower of the cathedral, it has seven bells, a height of about 56 meters and over the years, owing to the increasing tilt, the access was forbidden to the public. To this end, several corrective and stabilization efforts have been made over the decades, which managed to prevent the tilt from further increasing, thus ensuring its stability! Now the tower is open to visitors, admission with fee, just like the other monuments overlooking Piazza del Duomo (Cathedral Square.).
Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles)
Now it’s time to visit the beautiful Piazza del Duomo (Cathedral Square) (51), which is renowned all over the world for the presence of four unique monuments, which earned it its name! Beyond that, the four monuments also represent the cycle of life: existence, birth and death.
During the Medici and the House of Lorraine times, several buildings were erected. Their current arrangement has been designed by the architect Alessandro della Gherardesca in the nineteenth century, through the demolition of the existing buildings, but the square dates back even to the early Medieval period, as there was a church dedicated to Saint Mary. The last changes were made at the beginning of the twentieth century during the Fascist period, with the addition of a monument dedicated to the Capitoline Wolf on the lawn north of the bell tower, as well as of seventeen cypresses planted along the eastern edge of the square to commemorate the death of as many fascists.
Now, let’s have a close look at these monuments.
The Cathedral of Pisa (52) was built in the Pisan Romanesque style and dedicated to Our Lady of the Assumption, which was initially known as St. Mary Major. The interior is covered with white and black marbles and the golden coffered ceiling is adorned with frescoes. In 1595 a fire caused major damages, destroying many medieval works of art; fortunately, among the works preserved, there is also the beautiful apse mosaic of Christ in Majesty, surrounded by the Virgin Mary and John the Evangelist, attributed to Cimabue. The altar, realised by Giovanni Pisano, is one of the works which best represent the history of Christianity through some scenes referring to the New Testament. However, it is a copy, as the original was destroyed by the fire, dismantled during the restoration work, and then rebuilt in a different place.
The Baptistery (53) dates back to the twelfth century, features a Gothic façade and is dedicated to John the Evangelist: in fact, in the centre there is a baptismal font recalling John the Baptist. It actually replaces a previous smaller baptistery. It is characterised by outstanding acoustic performances.
The Monumental Cemetery (54), of the thirteenth century, also in Gothic style, is provided with an internal cloister used as a burial place for the most famous Pisan personalities. The legend has it that the cemetery lay around the ground taken from the Holy Land after the Third Crusade by Archbishop Ubaldo Lanfranchi in the twelfth century. The walls were originally covered with frescoes representing the stories of the Old Testament in the northern gallery, and the stories of the Book of Genesis in the southern one. The most important fresco is the Triumph of Death by Buonamico Buffalmacco, but, as a result of the Second World War bombings, a fire burnt the wooden beams of the roof, which collapsed damaging many works. The restoration works aimed at recovering the valuable sinopia drawings, kept at the Museum of Sinopie (56) - south of the square – are still in progress. Sinopie are preparatory drawings for frescoes, made by various famous artists of the time, which covered the walls of the cemetery but were destroyed or damaged during the fire.
The drawings were discovered after the removal of the frescoes to be restored from the walls.
In the surrounding are there is the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo (Museum of the Works of the Cathedral) (55) managed by the Opera Primaziale Pisana, inaugurated in 1986 with the purpose of displaying the development of the Pisan works of art, especially of the medieval sculpture, which until then were situated in different locations. The most important sculptures, in fact, were taken away from the monuments during the restoration works: some of them were kept in the Civic Museum, later called National Museum of San Matteo; while others were scattered in the warehouses of the Museum of the Works during the wars; others, finally, ended up in the Monumental Cemetery.
In addition to the sculptures, Museo dell'Opera del Duomo also keeps the Cathedral Treasury, which includes some silver items, a small collection of fixed furniture, vestments and liturgical codes. A section dedicated to the Egyptian, Etruscan and Roman remains, initially displayed at the Cemetery, rounds off the entire collection.
To go back to the station, you can take the central Via Roma, where you will see the oldest Orto Botanico (Botanical Garden) (57) in Europe, created by Luca Ghini, a physician and botanist of Imola, and financed by Cosimo I de 'Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany. The garden originally lay in the garden of the Convent of San Vito, near the Citadel and the Medicean Arsenal and was called Giardino dell'Arzinale. Later, after the demolition of the convent, the garden covered the current area. Its collections include a small number of species, because it aims at providing an instructive demonstration of biodiversity and at showing the species in their natural habitat. Moreover, the collections are also preserved in the seed bank, which comprehend many samples of few species, selected among the threatened ones.
Back to the station
Along Via Roma you will soon reach Ponte Solferino (Solferino Bridge) which crosses the Arno river, then take Via Crispi and shortly after you will find Piazza Sant'Antonio (Sant’Antonio Square) (58) with the fourteenth-century church of the same name (59) built in 1341 together with a convent, which was destroyed during the Second World War. One side of the church features a wall painted realised by Keith Haring (60) when the American artist visited Pisa in 1989. From Piazza Sant'Antonio it will take you little time to walk to the nearby railway station.
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What to see in Pisa
One of the most famous tower in the world but much more
Please start reading Things to do in Pisa: The main attractions in Pisa and in the surrounding area
Pisa Miracles' Square
The leaning tower of Pisa is "just" one of a majestic and evocative context, set in one of the most beautiful historical scenarios in the world: the Pisa Miracles' Square (World Heritage site).
In the extraordinary context of Square of Miracles in Pisa, near the leaning tower and Baptistery..the Pisa Cathedral
The Pisa Baptistery, devoted to St. John the Baptist, stands in front of the west facade of the Cathedral.
Leaning Tower of Pisa
The Leaning Tower of Pisa, one of the most famous and visited Tower in the world.
Monumental Cemetery of Pisa
The Monumental Cemetery of Pisa, In the miracle's square of Pisa, near the leaning tower, the Cathedral and the Baptistery.