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Lavinia Rinaldi ph. Pasquale Paradiso

April 7, 2017

Pisa, a marble mirage

Un itinerario unico, alla ricerca della marmorea bellezza della Toscana

An ancient city, perhaps Ligurian, Etruscan, Roman or Greek. It’s history is rich with events, characters: Italian art wouldn’t be the same if it weren’t for Nicola and Giovanni Pisano, innovators of sculpture; man wouldn’t have reached the Moon if Galileo hadn’t observed the stars. The symbol of Pisa, triumphant through the centuries, is Piazza dei Miracoli, named so by D’Annunzio, interpreting the emotion of those who see it for the first time or who sees it again with the same wonder. Tower, Cathedral, Baptistery almost falling from the sky illuminate the green space, scattered about, revealing a magical perspective, where light, shadow, years, centuries communicate with the monuments. Piazza dei Miracoli, with marble masterpieces in the Pisan Romanesque style, is a “cosmic hourglass”: the sun beats down in precise points, marking the rhythm of the days, seasons, sealing itself into the history and art of the city. An icon of Italy, the Leaning Tower is the cathedral’s bell tower, challenging the laws of gravity. Unique for its artistic value and position, it rises up in the most visible point of the piazza, a lookout, a symbol of civic and religious pride. A stone documents the beginning of the work: A.D. MCLXXIV. CAMPANILE HOC FUIT FUNDATUM MENSE AUGUSTI. Construction, lasting centuries due to water in the terrain under the tower, causing its gradual tilting, concluded in 1372. Nearby, stands the Cathedral dedicated to the Assumption of Mary, a Romanesque masterpiece with Classic, Byzantine, Lombard-Emilian and Islamic elements, proof of the artistic expansion of the era and culture of the architect Buscheto, who in 1064 presented a design for the “pure marble edifice.” It was consecrated in 1118, despite the Devil, so legend says, opposing the construction and leaving claw marks on the side walls. It contains the pulpit by Giovanni Pisano, a Gothic masterpiece with scenes from the life of Christ.
The diameter of the Baptistery, the largest in Italy, is the same as the cathedral’s façade. Entrusted in 1152 to the architect Diotisalvi, it’s a marble structure with a circular plan, inspired by the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, and contains an immersion baptismal font and the pulpit by Nicola Pisano, who finished the work alongside Giovanni. Like a theatre, the Camposanto is the background of the piazza, among the oldest Christian funerary structures. The earth upon which it was built, mixed with earth from Golgotha, bathed in the blood of Christ, was brought back by Crusaders. Roman sarcophagi, frescoes by great Medieval painters, inspired by the Divine Comedy, render the visit a true emotional experience. Pisa “of 1000 towers,” powerful Maritime Republic: in addition to the tower in Piazza dei Miracoli, the city is home to more, two of which are leaning: that alongside the Church of S. Nicola, leaning 2.5%, and at the Church of S. Michele degli Scalzi, with a 5% lean. The most famous, though, is the Torre di Fame, a Dantesque symbol of the tragedy of Count Ugolino, which faces Piazza dei Cavalieri. Called the “Sette Vie” (Seven Streets), it was the centre of economic power in the Middle Ages. Rebuilt by Vasari in 1562 for Cosimo I dei Medici, it became the headquarters of the Order of the Knights of Saint Stephen. The Palazzo della Carovana dei Cavalieri, previously known as the Palazzo degli Anziani, is today the seat of the Scuola Normale Superiore, a prestigious institution founded by Napoleon.
The Arno crosses through Pisa and, just as in Florence, the streets that flank the river are called Lungarni, a feature of the city. On the Lungarno Pacinotti sits Palazzo Reale, built in 1583 by Bernardo Buontalenti to be the residence of Francesco I. Galileo himself was among the most important guests, and his telescope is conserved here today. Palazzo Blu can be found on the Lungarno Gambacorti; its name comes from the colour of the plaster found during restoration, which recalled the blue colour typical of palaces in Saint Petersburg; the colour of the building is evidence of its history as the seat Greek-Russian Imperial College, on behalf of Catherine II. Today, it is a museum that hosts temporary exhibitions, such as Viviani at Palazzo Blu, running until May 14, 2917. The small Chiesa della Spina, a Gothic jewel, is also a must-see, named so because it once conserved a thorn from Jesus’ crown, brought back by Crusaders in 1333. In the ancient heart of Pisa, an exceptional encounter awaits with Keith Harring’s murals, painted in 1989: in 180 square meters on the walls of the Church of St. Anthony, his work depicts the theme of peace, wedging, like a puzzle, thirty figures painted in the colours of Pisan palaces. His only “permanent” work, created shortly before his death.  


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