Walk 23: Pisa City Walk: A ‘leaning’ towards piazzas & pizzas

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: Difficult to say as you’ll be diverting off here, there & everywhere, so let’s just say about 1 days worth, but maybe spread over 2 days

Time to walk: We’re not really walking this walk as that’s not what Italians do! Today we ‘promenade’ our way around this small, but beautiful city

Difficulty: Easy as all flat & the only difficult parts are what flavours of Gelato to put on top of your cone!!

Parking: Pisa’s airport is right on the edge of the city & it only takes a few minutes to reach the centre which is mainly pedestrianised. If you arrive by train, the station’s also really central

Public toilets: Plenty in cafes, bars etc

Map of the route:

Pisa is situated on the banks of the River Arno in Tuscany, Central Italy. It’s also about 6 miles from the Ligurian Sea which we flew over on our approach to the airport. Pisa lay by the sea until the 15th century, by which time accumulated silt deposited by the Arno River had completely cut the city off from the receding shoreline

Known worldwide for its leaning tower, the city has many other treasures including its art, palaces & churches. Much of the city’s architecture was financed from its history as one of the Italian maritime republics.

The city is also home of the University of Pisa, which has a history going back to the 12th century

We visited at the end of October & were lucky to enjoy some fabulous weather. Pisa’s a tiny city so ready to go & have a look?

Let’s Walk!

1. So where better to start our walk around this small city than at its main attraction…the Piazza die Miracoli. We therefore head through the magnificent arch into the old & probably most famous part of the city…

Love this snap!

Love this snap!

The Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles) is a wide walled area universally recognised as one of the finest architectural complexes in the world

Owned by the Catholic Church & considered a sacred area, the square is dominated by four great religious edifices: the Cathedral, the Baptistry, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, & the Camposanto Monumentale (Monumental Cemetery). Partly paved & partly grassed, the Piazza dei Miracoli is also the site of the Ospedale Nuovo di Santo Spirito (New Hospital of the Holy Spirit), which houses the Sinopias Museum & the Cathedral Museum

In 1987 the whole square was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site &, on first sight, it definitely has the WOW factor!!

Have a look at this link for a panoramic video we took…

2. This area’s so rich in history there’s only one way to tackle it & that’s by moving along each building in turn. So it’s buy a ticket time.

You can buy combination ones, although to climb the Tower you do have to buy a separate ticket. Entrance to the Cathedral is free upon purchase of a ticket to one of the others. We chose to ignore the crowded Tower, opting for the other 3 buildings, which was really good value

So…avoiding all the tourists trying to get photos of them saving the tower from falling over, the first building we come to is The Baptistery

Couldn't believe the weather for an early November day!

Couldn’t believe the weather for an early November day!

The Baptistery, dedicated to St. John the Baptist, is the oldest building in the Square & was built in Romanesque style by an architect known as Diotisalvi, who worked also on the church of the Holy Sepulchre which we’ll see later. Construction was not finished until the 14th century, when the loggia, the top storey & the dome were added in Gothic style by Nicola Pisano & Giovanni Pisano

It’s the largest baptistery in Italy with a circumference measuring 107.25 m & it’s slightly taller than the Tower

3. If the outside looks impressive, the inside’s slightly disappointing & sparse…

The pulpit was sculpted between 1255-1260 by Nicola Pisano, father of Giovanni Pisano, the artist who produced the spectacular pulpit in the Duomo which we’ll see shortly

The short climb up to the gallery level is also worth doing as the view of the interior’s actually better from up there…

Plus you get a full on of the Duomo through the window…

4. The queue into the Duomo was quite busy, so our next stop was The Camposanto Monumentale which, from the outside, is probably the least striking of the buildings, but just wait…

The Camposanto Monumentale is a walled cemetery believed by some to be the most beautiful cemetery in the world

It’s said to have been built on sacred soil from Calvary, brought back to Pisa from the Fourth Crusade by Ubaldo de’ Lanfranchi, the archbishop of Pisa, in the 12th century. This is where the name Campo Santo (Holy Field) originates from

The building itself dates from a century later & was erected over the earlier burial ground. It was begun in 1278 by the architect Giovanni di Simone, but he died in battle in 1284 & the cemetery was only completed in 1464

Most of the tombs are under the arcades, although a few are on the central lawn

The walls were once covered in frescoes, the first were done in 1360, the last about three centuries later

The Stories of the Old Testament by Benozzo Gozzoli were situated in the north gallery, while the south arcade was famous for the Stories of the Genesis by Piero di Puccio

It’s an amazingly peaceful place without the crowds of the other buildings…

5. The most remarkable fresco is The Triumph of Death, a realistic work by Buonamico Buffalmacco

On 27 July 1944, incendiary bombs dropped by Allied aircraft set the roof of the building on fire & covered the frescos in molten lead, all but destroying them. Since 1945, restoration works have been going on & now the Campo Santo has been brought back to its original state

6. The other end contains some of the few remaining statues & ‘treasures’…

7. It’s now time to break from the solitude & peacefulness of this place & head for what we thought was the most spectacular of all the buildings…the Duomo

Walking towards it from the Baptistery side is spectacular & the white stone against the clear blue sky set it off a treat

Construction of the Duomo began in 1064 by the architect Busketo

The façade, of grey marble & white stone set with discs of coloured marble, was built by Rainaldo. Before entering just stop for a few minutes & have a look at how ornate it is

This fellow (who reminded us of the late chef Keith Floyd) had one of the best seats…

The massive bronze main doors replaced the original doors destroyed in a fire in 1595, however worshippers never used the façade doors, instead entering by the door, in front of the Tower

8. Head on in & prepare to be “wowed”. Here’s a quick panoramic video we took as an introduction…

The initial view you’re greeted by is quite something…

The elaborately carved pulpit (1302–1310), which survived a fire in 1595, was made by Giovanni Pisano & is one the masterworks of medieval sculpture. It was packed away during the redecoration & was incredibly not rediscovered & re-erected until 1926. The pulpit is supported by plain columns (two of which mounted on lions) on one side & by caryatids & a telamon on the other. A central plinth supports the four theological virtues

See the incense lamp above? Well Galileo is supposed to have come up with his theory about the movement of a pendulum by watching the swinging of it (not the present one) hanging from the ceiling of the nave

The dome’s equally impressive…

…as is the mosaic which also survived the fire

9. Our final building to have a look at is the Bell Tower, more commonly known as The Leaning Tower of Pisa – if you have a close look all the buildings in the Piazza are leaning, but obviously not to the same extent

The last of the three major buildings on the piazza to be built, construction of the bell tower began in 1173 & took place in three stages over the course of 177 years, with the bell-chamber only added in 1372

Five years after construction began, when the building had reached the third floor level, the weak subsoil & poor foundation led to it sinking on its south side. It was left for a century, which allowed the subsoil to stabilise itself & prevented the building from collapsing

In 1272, to adjust the lean of the building, when construction resumed, the upper floors were built with one side taller than the other. The seventh & final floor was added in 1319. By the time the building was completed, the lean was approximately 1 degree, or 80 cm (2.5 feet) from vertical. At its greatest, measured prior to 1990, the lean measured approximately 5.5 degrees. As of 2010, the lean was reduced to approximately 4 degrees.

The tower stands approximately 60 metres high & was built to accommodate a total of seven main bells

10. It’s well worth just sitting around on the steps of the Duomo & just people watching, trying to see everyone trying to get their own perfect picture of trying to hold it up

This bloke was doing his very best…

Don't forget the Selfie!!

Don’t forget the Selfie!!

It really is like this!!

It really is like this!!

11. Well that’s enough of silly poses & it’s time now to maybe have some lunch & then head off to explore the rest of this tiny city

Exiting east we pass into Piazza Arcivescovado…

…& then follow Via Capponi as it twists & turns & eventually becomes Via San Guiseppe…

…where we arrive at the first of several churches on our route, San Guiseppe

12. This small church was founded in 1530 by the Gesuate sisters of Lucca in 1572. It has an exceptional collection of 18th century works of art.

13. As the road turns sharp right we head straight over into Via Santa Caterina to the Piazza where, ahead of us lies the Chiesa di Santa Caterina d’Allesan

Built between 1251 & 1300 the most notable part of this church is the 17th century wooden pulpit from which, according to tradition, St. Thomas once preached

14. Heading south now we follow the path through Piazza Martiri della Liberta…

This was towards the end of our day 1 & the light was fading

This was towards the end of our day 1 & the light was fading

Translated as the Martyrs Square of Liberty, the square was once occupied by the monastery of San Lorenzo. The statue is of Grand Duke Peter Leopold

As the light was fading fast & because we’d spent a long time sitting in the sun outside the Tower, we decided to continue this walk the following day…

15. Good morning & it’s another glorious day!!

Turning right at the bottom of the Piazza into Via San Lorenzo we follow this across another street & into perhaps Pisa’s second most beautiful Piazza…Piazza del Cavaleri (Knights Square)

Once the site of ironworks, in the Middle Ages this Piazza became the political & administrative centre of Pisa, with buildings & roads converging on the square called “of the seven streets”

Redesigned by Vasari this stunning Piazza now contains the buildings of the Palace of the Caravan, the Church of St Stephen of the Knights, the Rectory, the Council of Twelve building, the Puteano College, St Rocco Church & the Clock Building. In the centre is a statue of Cosimo by Francavilla




Today the buildings house Pisa’s University – lucky students!

16. We should now head back out of the Piazza the way we came, but cannot leave without visiting one of the best local snack eateries we’re going to visit on this trip

So head down the street to the left of the arch & follow it for a short distance until we arrive at Panineria L’Ostellino on the right of the small Piazza…

This place is a real hidden treasure. Chose your size of baguette (large), then your sauce (mushroom), your sliced meat (porcetta), your cheese (pecorino) & any grilled vegetables (aubergines). They can’t serve you wine, but just give them 2 Euros & pour yourself a large one!!


Boy is it good & you can either sit on a bar stool in the shop or in the park outside. As it’s in the student area it was full of youngsters & we never saw another tourist

It's all things 'pig' in here!!

It’s all things ‘pig’ in here!!

The staff are also great…

17. Phew! Suitably full we head back to where we came in the Piazza die Cavalieri & head diagonally right into the side streets…

…to arrive in the classy Borgo Stretto…

…& time to stop for a quick espresso…

18. Borgo Stretto is the most elegant street in Pisa. The most expensive shops & boutiques are here under its arches

There’s some nice bars too & amazing pastry shops

On the right there’s another Piazza, this time with vegetable stalls (a proper market!)

19. Now this blog is in danger of becoming all about food & drink, but then it is Italy!

So to get away from this rumour we move into the Piazza Garibaldi which is at the end of the Borgo Stretto with its statue of Garibaldi. This Piazza is the exact centre of the city…

The river's just over the road

The river’s just over the road

Well…it was never going to last long was it!! On this square is the BEST Gelato shop in Pisa…La Bottega del Gelato & it is simply AWESOME!!

Click on the above link for reviews, but all we can say is the Strawberry Cheesecake flavour was to die for & the other good news is it’s only 2 euros for 2 scoops unlike some rip-off Gelato shops in Italy

20. We really do need to walk this off!!

Rather than cross the river let’s face it & turn right & follow the bank (we’ll get some good sunset photos from here later) past some spectacular buildings…

The one below is the Palazzo Agostini. This red brick building is one of the oldest & best preserved in Pisa.

This 14th century building is interesting for several reasons, one of which is it’s another that’s leaning. The bar was the meeting place of many famous visitors including Giusti, Fucini, Guerrazzi, Montanelli, Abba, Panzacchi & Carducci

21. We’re heading to cross the river at the next bridge, Ponto Solferino, where we’d hoped to have a close up look at one of Pisa’s most famous churches, Santa Maria della Spina

However it soon became clear that work was being done & the church was covered in scaffolding…

22. Anyway it’s on our route so we cross the bridge…

…& turn left to arrive at the Santa Maria della Spina. The church, erected in 1230, was originally known as Santa Maria di Pontenovo

Its current name of Spina (“thorn”) derives from the presence of a thorn, allegedly part of the crown dressed by Christ on the Cross, brought here in 1333

…here’s what it’s supposed to look like…

23. Carry on along the Lungarno Gambacorti until we come to a blue building on the right called Palazzo Blu…

Recently restored this Palace is well worth a look inside &…it’s free!

24. Pisa was hit hard by Allied bombing in World War II & there’s a separate exhibition to it here…

Recognise that from the Camposanto?

Recognise that from the Camposanto?

The other rooms are fantastic too…

25. Time to continue our exploration of the south bank so moving further along the river we come to The Loggia…

Built between 1603 & 1605, The Loggia was used as a market & money exchange. Today there was a twice weekly antique & bric-a-brac  market taking place…



26. The next church to have a look at is set just back slightly from the river road & is the Chiesa del Santo Sepolcro


Built around 1138, this octagonal church is similar to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Unfortunately it was another one that was locked today


27. We’re heading next towards the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele so head past the church into the narrow back streets & turn right along Via San Martino & then left into Piazza Gambaconti…


…which we exit top right onto Pisa’s main shopping street…Corso Italia


28. On the left’s another famous church…Santa Maria de Carmine


…but it’s the ‘posh’ shops that attract most of the crowds around here on the ‘High Street’ of Pisa. One thing to point out is that most of the buildings here are very modern which is a result of the heavy bombings of 1944 when Pisa was attacked for 45 consecutive days. During this time 3000 civilians were killed & 50% of the buildings destroyed

Today though it’s a bright & vibrant place to take a stroll


29. Finally, & hopefully without spending too much well-earned cash, we arrive at the large open space which is the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele…



At the opposite side of the Piazza is Pisa’s main station, where our journey to Florence will begin, but that’s another walk! Again, this is a modern building reflecting the renovation of this area


30. There’s a bar here that’s worth a visit (well it is Prosecco time). It’s called Keith &, if you stand in the Piazza with your back to the station, it’s in the top left corner – you can’t miss it as it’s very bright & modern…


So buy yourself a glass of bubbly & pull up a chair on the decking & sit back & enjoy what makes this bar famous…


The mural above is by Keith Haring. The idea of creating a mural in Pisa happened by chance when a young Pisan student met Haring in New York. The theme is peace & harmony in the world through the links & divisions between the 30 figures which, like a puzzle, cover 180 square metres of the south wall of the Church of St. Anthony

The mural’s title is ‘Tuttomondo” a word which sums up the artist’s constant pursuit of interaction with the public, represented by the yellow figure which is walking or running in the centre of the composition on the same level as a passer-by

The 30 figures in the mural evoke Haring’s typical vitality & his ceaseless creative energy. He died from Aids shortly after it was finished

It is amazing, but even better through a glass of the local fizz…

Now that's a cool glass

Now that’s a cool glass

31. We confess the mural looked even better after a second glass!!. Ok, it’s now time to head back towards the north bank up Via Mazzini

After only a few yards we come to Domus Mazziniana, the beautiful house where Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Mazzini died in 1872. The house was declared a National Monument in 1910 & was almost destroyed during the bombing of Pisa on 31 August 1943

The Domus Mazzini is free to visit & is one of the most beautiful historic homes in the city


32. Heading straight up on Via Mazzini we arrive once again at the river & turn right & then left onto the bridge. By now it’s getting dark so time for a few quick photos…




P733. Just walk past that Gelato & head back up Borgo Stretto. If you fancy a drink then we can really recommend Sottobosco in the Piazza San Paolo on the right just off Borgo. It’s a bohemian cafe with vintage decor & very laid back, full of students. If you arrive early evening you get the traditional free appetisers with your drink…

2014-10-30 19.49.52

34. Now we simply retrace our steps back to the Piazza dei Miracoli

At night we were expecting something spectacular, but ended up feeling they’d missed a trick…





Well that’s our take of a walk around Pisa so what did we think. It’s a very small, but beautiful city & not one you’re going to rush round because, if you do, you’ll see it all within a few hours

This is a city that you need to walk…stop…look…explore…sit…eat…relax & soak it all up. If you do that then it’s a great place to spend a couple of days

Go Walk!!

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