Saturday, May 19, 2007

Discover Pisa

Of all towns in Tuscany, Pisa can be reached best, because it owns the only international airport of the region, the Aeroporto Galileo Galilei. It is directly connected to the major Tuscan cities like Florence, Pontedera, Empoli, Montecatini Terme, Pistoia, Lucca or Prato via train. To reach the city cente of Pisa, just take a stop train or the CPT (Pisa Transport Company) bus no. 3, that departs the airport every 20 minutes.

Pisa's main train station is located at the southern edge of the city centre, a 30 minutes walk away from the Piazza dei Miracoli. Regular buses run from here to all quarters stopping also at the main sights. If you don't have to carry heavy luggage it's a nice walk down to the Arno river (following the pedestrian area - northward) and then up the Via Santa Maria (stroling through the historical centre) till you reach the famous Leaning Tower.

Coming from the highway Pisa is always waymarked very well. If you enter the city from the west, you will recognize the Piazza dei Miracolis's silhouette very soon (it's really overwhelming). Parking space is very limited inside the inner city. Best is to ask your hotel about best parking facilities nearby.

History and Culture
Pisa's origins remain uncertain even to this day; some theories say the city is of Greek origin, however the city was most probably founded by the Ligurians or Etruscans. During the Roman Empire Pisa became a privileged center due to the excellent disembarkation possibilities offered by its port, to such an extent that the port was expanded and restructured during Octavian's reign. Following the end of the Roman Empire, Pisa remained a port city of great importance for the Goths, Longobards and the Carolingi.

The city's political zenith came late in the eleventh century with a series of victories over the Saracens : the Pisans brought back from Arab cultures long-forgotten ideas of science, architecture and philosophy. Decline set in with defeat by the Genoese in 1284, followed by the silting-up of Pisa's harbour. From 1406 the city was governed by Florence, whose Medici rulers re-established the University of Pisa, one of the intellectual forcing houses of the Renaissance; Galileo was one of the teachers there. Subsequent centuries saw Pisa fade into provinciality until the 19th century, when the Grand Dukes of Lorena began the indispensable reclamation works. In 1810, Napoleon founded the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa, which to this day continues to be renowned as a school of excellence in Italy and abroad. In the 20th century Pisa once again began to flourish, thanks to the development of its university, trade, industry and, in more recent times, its fame among tourists worldwide.

Churches and Museums
Campo dei Miracoli
One of the most famous and admired squares in the world, it was requested by the city government at a time when Pisa was at its most splendid. It is formed by a complex of four buildings, constructed by the most genial architects of that era in a uniquely recognizable Pisan Romanesque style, which sees alternating rows of white and greenish-gray stone.

The heart of the Campo dei Miracoli is the Duomo, the medieval cathedral, entitled to St. Mary. This is a five-naved basilica with a three-naved transept. It was begun in 1064 by the architect Buscheto and is the originator of the distinctive Pisan Romanesque style in architecture. The mosaics of the interior show a strong Byzantine influence, while the pointed arches point to Muslim influences. The interior forms a Latin cross, divided into five naves by heavy granite columns. The sight is incredible, thanks to the geometric decorations of polychrome marble and the seventeenth-century coffered ceiling. The original decorations were almost all destroyed during the fire of 1595. A masterpiece of Italian Gothic sculpture from the fourteenth-century remains, the beautiful Giovanni Pisano pulpit, as well as the apse mosaic.

The Leaning Tower
The Leaning Tower of Pisa is the campanile, or bell tower, of the cathedral of Pisa. It is situated behind the Cathedral and it is the third structure in Pisa's Campo dei Miracoli (field of Miracles). The tower is famous for its noticeable lean. It was intended to stand vertically, to serve as a bell tower, but began leaning soon after construction started in 1173. The tower based on a project by Bonanno Pisano was completed in the 14th century. The round tower is composed of a base with blind arches supporting six loggia tiers that culminate in an elegant bell chamber.The ground already began to show signs of subsidence in 1185 which caused the works to come to a halt for almost a century.

The Baptistery
The Baptistery, dedicated to St. John the Baptist, stands opposite the west end of the Duomo. The round Romanesque building was begun in the mid 12th century on the construction of a new baptistery, which blends well with the cathedral in terms of position, size, materials and style. It was built in Romanesque style by an architect known as Deotisalvi (“God Save You”). Construction lasted until the end of the fourteenth-century and included the work of various architects, explaining the Romanesque and Gothic mix in the monument. The shape of the baptistery had to evoke that of the Holy Sepulcher. In the 12th century, Nicola and Giovanni Pisano changed the original building, completing it with a crown of arches and pinnacles. Inside, one can admire the beautiful baptismal font and, near the altar, the pulpit, the work of the great Nicola Pisano.

Santa Maria della Spina
Santa Maria della Spina is a small Gothic church. The church, erected in 1230, was originally known as Santa Maria di Pontenovo: the new name of Spina derives from the presence of a thorn allegedly part of the crown dressed by Christ on the Cross, brought here in 1333. In 1871 the church was dismantled and rebuilt on a higher level due to dangerous inflitration of water from the Arno river. The church is covered in dual-colored marble rows and decorated with elegant spires, tympanums and tabernacles. The rich sculpture decoration was carried out by important fourteenth-century Pisan sculptors. Inside, one finds the statue of Andrea Pisano.

Cathedral Museum; Museo dell'Opera del Duomo
East of the Piazza del Duomo is the Cathedral Museum (Museo dell'Opera del Duomo), with art of the buildings situated in the Piazza and the valuable treasury including embroideries, tombs, silver church objects, sculpture and pictures.

San Matteo National Museum
The Benedictine Convent of San Matteo (dissolved 1866) now houses the Museo Nazionale (National Museum). The main part of the collection centers on sculpture and pictures of the Tuscan schools from the 12th century to the 15th century. Of particular interest are the sculptures from various churches in Pisa, brought here to preserve them from increasing environmental pollution and replaced by copies in their original positions. The statues by Giovanni Pisano come from the baptistery, the famous “Madonna del Latte” (c. 1340) from the Church of Santa Maria della Spina. Painting is represented by a number of 12th and 13th century crucifixes, panel-paintings by Simone Martini, Giovanni di Nicola, Benozzo Gozzoli and others, and examples of book illumination.

Museum of Ancient Ships in Pisa
In 1998, during the works carried out in the area around Pisa San Rossore Station, the remains of the ancient port in Pisa were brought to light. At a depth of circa 5 meters, an impressive series of wrecks placed one on top of the other emerged, dating from between the end of the Hellenistic Period and the Late Roman Period. The Permanent Exhibition of Ancient Ships will be hosted in the ancient Medicei Arsenals, on Lungarno Simonelli. Currently, the exhibition is closed due to restructuring work on the arsenals and the restoration of the ships. Opening is scheduled by the end of 2006.

Historical buildings and monuments
The Camposanto Monumentale
Was founded in 1277 and completed in 1464. This cemetery is a cloister of vast galleries around the central area, which according to legend contains the "holy soil” from Palestine brought here by Pisan crusaders. Towards the middle of the fifteenth century, the Camposanto contained one of the largest painting series of its time: the walls were entirely covered in frescos, however they were destroyed following ally bombings during the Second World War.

Botanic Garden
To the south of the Campo dei Mirácoli, between Via Roma and Via Porta Buozzi, lies the Orto Botánico (Botanic Garden), originally laid out in 1543 by Cosimo de' Medici. It is now associated with the University; in the center of the gardens is the Botanical Institute. Here plants from many different climatic zones flourish, either in the open air or in the various greenhouses.

Piazza dei Cavalieri
The Knights' Square (Piazza dei Cavalieri) is located at the same place as the forum of the antique Portus Pisanus, as Pisa was called in Roman times. This square was the political centre in medieval Pisa, where the Pisans used to discuss their problems or celebrate their victories. Also on this square, the emissary of Florence proclaimed the end of the independence of Pisa in 1406. The square was rebuilt in renaissance style by Giorgio Vasari, the famous architect of the grand duke Cosimo I de Medici of Florence. The main building on the square is Palazzo della Carovana, the palace of the Knights of St. Stephan. It was modernised in renaissance style by Giorgio Vasari. The awesome façade is decorated with sgraffiti, equally by Vasari, and contains two niches with busts of grand dukes of Tuscany. It now houses the prestigious Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa. In front of the palace stands the large statue of Cosimo I de Medici. In the other corner of the square stands the Palazzo dell' Orologio.

The “Lungarni” Quays.
For centuries these quays were the heart of the city. Until the nineteenth century they were covered with piers and docks. These were later destroyed to reinforce the banks. The “Lungarni” are presented as a succession of beautiful noble buildings, interrupted by five bridges that unite the city. Mezzo Bridge, the most central, hosts the Game of the Bridge each June. You can admire some of the remarkable buildings while walking along the river. On Lungarno Mediceo: Palazzo Schiff, Palazzo Concioni and Palazzo Toscanelli; on Lungarno Pacinotti: Palazzo Agostani Venerosi, which hosts the age-old Caffé dell'Ussero; on Lungarno Galileo Galilei: Palazzo Lanfranchi, seat of the Municipality, Palazzo da Scorno, Palazzo Pretorio and Palazzo Gambacorti, in Pisan Gothic style.

The Mural by Keith Haring
Keith Haring (1958 - 1990) was a young American artist who was known worldwide for his "Subway Drawings”. Pisa's mural, measuring 180 meters, can be found on a wall in the Sant'Antonio Convent near Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II. It is Haring's only work to have been planned from the beginning as a permanent work and is entitled: “Tuttomondo”. The thirty characters featured in the mural move in a blend of metaphor that represents harmony and peace around the world.

San Ranieri Historical Regatta - 17th June.
Pisa celebrates its patron saint in a regatta with each boat containing eight oarsmen representing the four areas of the city: St. Martino, St. Antonio, St. Maria and St. Francesco. The competition is held on the Arno along an upstream stretch of 2 km. The night before, the famous Luminara of San Ranieri is held in which thousands of candles are hung from the buildings by creating a spectacle of rare beauty. Thousands of locals crowd along the Arno to see the fireworks at midnight.

Gioco del Ponte. The last Sunday of June sees the renewal of the challenge between the two banks of the Arno: Tramontana and Mezzogiorno. On Mezzo Bridge, the 6 teams from each hamlet challenge each other by pushing a heavy, 70 ton cart on a 50 meter rail over its opponent’s line.

Palio of the Ancient Marine Republic, September 2006.
Since 1955 this race commemorates the ancient rivalry between the marine cities of Medieval times which dominated the Mediterranean: Amalfi, Pisa, Genoa and Venice. The boats are identical with eight oarsmen each. They only differ in color and emblems. The race takes place each year in one of the four cities and 2006 will be Pisa’s turn to hold the race.

The International Festival of Holy Music.
Piazza dei Miracoli, from 14/09/2005 to 29/10/2005. The International Festival of Holy Music takes place in the cathedral and is the most important event of its kind in Italy. It presents important compositions in holy music performed by the best Italian and international symphonies and choirs.

Pisa Vini, last weekend of November.
The exhibition, which is held in the Convent of Santa Croce is dedicated to the production of white and red wines from the province of Pisa. A rich and complete exhibition on local wine production and everything it entails: tastings, accompaniment with traditional cuisine and the promotion of Pisan gourmet products.

Volterra A.D. 1398, last week of August.
A unique occasion to immerse oneself in the magical atmosphere of the Medieval, in one of the most beautiful towns in Tuscany: Volterra. The best manifestation is the “Giornata di Festa nell’Anno Domini 1398”: from dawn till dusk the historic center is reconstructed to appear as the medieval city in 1398 with markets, craftsmen, musicians, jewelers, commoners and nobles.

1 comment:

Italy Lover said...

Thanks - your site is very helpful. We used it and when we hired a car we actually used it see other areas in the region too