Pisa: Travel Guide and Photos

 

Photographs of Pisa
If, when you hear the name ‘Pisa’ your first thought is of the leaning tower, then my guess is right: that non-vertical Romanesque bell tower is the best-known feature of this city of 90,000people in the Tuscany region of Central Italy – in fact it is probably the best-known single structure in Tuscany.
So first a little more about the belfry, and then, with the aid of the pictures (some taken with a fish-eye lens), I’ll attempt to convince you there is more to Pisa than the leaning tower.
The free-standing bell tower (Campanile) of the Cathedral (Duomo) of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary was begun in the 12th, and completed in the 14th century. It was already leaning before it was finished, due to inadequate foundations in the soft ground. Restoration work in the 20th century has prevented the tower leaning further, though perhaps wisely the engineers did not restore to the vertical this most famous of tourist attractions. So any time you go to the Piazza dei Miracoli, you will still see tourists having their photo taken, giving the illusion of holding back the lean, or supporting the whole tower on an open palm. In spite of the fact that the top of the tower is displaced nearly 4 metres (13 ft) from where it should be, it continues to be open to the public every day from 10.00 till 18.00. Tickets can be bought in advance up to the day before your visit. (See my free photos of the tower below.)

Things to see apart from the leaning tower
There are three more sights worthy of your attention just in the ‘Square of Miracles’, as the Piazza del Duomo is now called. (See the first three rows of pictures.) The first is the cathedral itself, a stunning example of Romanesque architecture of the late 11th century. So perfect is it, that this architectural style became known as ‘Pisano Romanesque’. Don’t miss the unique bronze doors, the 14th century mosaics, and the pulpit carved by Giovanni Pisano. Secondly there is the Baptistry, opposite the cathedral and perfectly in keeping with it, though built a little later. In this round building for baptisms, look out for sculptures by Nicola Pisano and Giovanni Pisano. The Camposanto completes the square, a fascinating building put up in the 13th century to tidy up the graves which had accumulated all round the cathedral. The highlights here are the frescos telling the stories of saints from Pisa, and the array of sculptures and decorated tombs.
It is possible to buy online, up to a day before your visit, a ticket for the leaning Campanile plus 1, 2 or 3 of the monuments in the square. (My pictures below may help you decide which buildings you wish to see.) The purchase of any ticket gets you a free pass to the cathedral, but you can only pick up this pass at the office at the cathedral. And a word of warning: passes to visit the cathedral are limited to a set number per day, so it is advisable to collect yours before visiting the other sites.
There are still two more museums in the vicinity of the cathedral, but they might only interest those with a deep interest in art: the Opera del Duomo Museum houses medieval sculpture, and the Sinopie Museum displays preliminary drawings for frescos painted in the cathedral.

Beyond the Piazza dei Miracoli
The second largest square in Pisa is the Piazza dei Cavallieri (Square of the Knights, in Row 6 of my pictures). If you take a guided walking tour or a three hour tour on a segway, you will explore the streets around this old town centre, full of medieval churches and renaissance architecture – or you can just wander on your own. In some places, parts of the towns defences remain, and there are two sections of wall that you can walk, one near the Torri di Santa Maria, and the other on one side of the Piazza delle Gondole. However, if you intend to take a day trip to nearby Lucca, don’t bother with Pisa’s walls, because the ones in Lucca are much more complete and impressive.
The river in Pisa is the Arno, (see the last row of pictures) and its position on the estuary of that famous river once made Pisa a maritime power. If you are there in June you will see events which celebrate this period of the city’s history: the Giaco del Ponte (Battle of the Bridge) and the Regata delle Antiche Republiche Marinare, a pageant re-enacting a sea battle from the days when Pisa was a naval republic. (The latter festival is only held every four years, from 1956.)

Travel to Pisa
Pisa International Airport (also more interestingly known as Galileo Galilei Airport) is the main airport for Tuscany, and Florence Airport, which also receives international flights, is 82 km (50 miles) away.
Trenitalia runs domestic rail services from Florence to Pisa, and international trains from Switzerland and France. (There’s a photo of the station with the fountain in front in the second to last row of pictures.) Other than that, the way to get there is to drive or travel on one of the many coach tours from Florence, Venice or Rome.

Pisa Accommodation
Backpackers have more choice of hostels in Pisa than they have in most European cities. The largest, Hostel Pisa, is right by the main station and only a twenty minute walk from The Square of Miracles. The WiFi is free, but you may be so busy meeting new people that you scarcely use it. There is a restaurant where you can have three meals a day if you want to. All rooms are en suite and are suitable for couples and friends, as well as singles. There are lockers, but you do need to take your own padlock. A bonus is that they will let you print your own boarding cards for the flight out. Slightly nearer to the main sights and as well recommended as the Hostel Pisa is the Hostel Pisa Tower. The accommodation is in dormitories for separate genders.

At the other end of the cost scale are two 4-star hotels, both classed as Good, but very different. The San Ranieri Hotel is so modern that you may never have seen anything quite like it before; everything is new and stylish. There is a glass-covered restaurant, and they serve a buffet breakfast. They offer Classic Doubles, Superior Doubles and Family Rooms. By contrast, the Hotel Bologna, five minutes’ walk from the centre of Pisa, and 12 minutes from the Piazza dei Miracoli, is traditional Tuscan in style. They have rooms for 3, 2 and singles; WiFi is free and there is on-site parking or an airport shuttle if you are flying. If you are not so bothered about being in Pisa itself (and, let’s face it, you are probably only going to spend two days in the city), then you might appreciate the rural peace of Le Sodole Country Resort and Golf (4-star). Apart from their single rooms, all rooms are classed as Deluxe Suites, have kitchens with full facilities, and sleep four or two. Parking and the internet are free, but breakfast is an optional extra. There is an outdoor pool and spa, and the hotel has its own restaurant and, as its name suggests, golf course.

In the 3-star category is the Hotel Pisa Tower, just 100 metres from the leaning tower. The unusual thing about this city centre hotel is that it has a garden, with tables and chairs. All rooms are en suite and airconditioned, and there are rooms to sleep four, three and two. If you can’t get in there (and it gets booked up), try the 3-star Hotel di Stefano, which is also very popular and even closer to the Campanile. This hotel has a rooftop terrace with sun loungers and a view over the city. Some of the rooms are in a separate medieval wing along with the historic dining hall, where breakfast is served. There are rooms for one, two, three or four, and a choice of Standard or Deluxe.
But if nothing short of the luxury of a 5-star hotel can satisfy you, try the Hotel Relais del Orologio. It is less than a quarter of a mile from the cathedral, and has 25 stylishly furnished rooms with a choice of Standard, Deluxe and Premium. Services include Bar, Lounge, Coffee Shop, spa tub and parking; WiFi is free, but only in public areas (why can hostels do better in this aspect than much more expensive hotels?)

Tourist Information
There is a Tourist Information Office in the Arrivals Hall of Pisa International Airport.
The main office in the city centre is in Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II, which is near the train station.
Both of these provide information about the main tourist sights and about transport options.


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