Pisa

Most people know Pisa’s famous Leaning Tower. Rather fewer know that it is one component in a lovely ensemble of medieval buildings; fewer still that the rest of the city—sadly—is a largely modern place (the result of bombing during World War II). Allow an hour to see the tower and its surroundings, and the same again to explore Pisa’s remaining medieval highlights.

The Leaning Tower (Tours every 35 minutes, tickets sold in northeast corner of Campo dei Miracoli) was originally a modest component of the Campo dei Miracoli, or Field of Miracles, which includes the cathedral, Baptistery, and Camposanto. Begun in 1173, the cathedral’s campanile started to lean almost immediately, the result of weak sandy subsoil underpinning its foundations.

The Duomo was begun a century earlier, and with its array of pillars, columns, and colored marbles would provide the model for similar Pisan-Romanesque churches across central Italy. It is known primarily for its bronze south doors (1180), Cimabue’s apse mosaic of “Christ in Majesty” (1302), and Giovanni Pisano’s pulpit (1302-1311) at the top of the north aisle. An equally staggering pulpit by Giovanni’s father, Nicola Pisano, stands in the circular Baptistery (begun in 1152). Treasures from both the cathedral and Baptistery can be seen in the nearby Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. The Campo s last component, the Camposanto, is a medieval cemetery.

Other town highlights are Piazza dei Cavallieri, a square ringed by medieval buildings; Santa Maria della Spina, an exquisite church on the riverbank at Lungarno Gambacorti; and the Museo Nazionale di San Matteo, a wide-ranging collection of mostly Tuscan paintings and sculptures.