Knights, palaces and tower-houses,
Narrow streets and medieval architecture.....
Even a leaning tower!
Cruise excursions do Pisa as a prelude to Florence or Lucca, usually from Livorno. You might have an hour - which is too long to look at the Leaning Tower, and too short to actually see Pisa. The excursion bus stop is 1 km. (.6 mile) north-west of the Field of Miracles - so you get off the bus and do the one kilometre dash, see and photograph the tower, hang around for 45 minutes and dash back to the bus again.
If you read below and think that you would really like to see Pisa, take the train. Get off the ship in Livorno as early as possible and take a cab to the train station from the ship or from the center of town where the shuttle drops you. On-line it says that a cab from the ship to the station is 25 Euros, but it would be considerably less from the end of the shuttle ride. If you like to walk, the train station is 2.3 km. (1.6 miles) from the Via Cogorano shuttle drop-off spot - walk east to Piazza della Repubblico and east again on Via De Larderel straight to the station.
From Livorno there are 60 trains a day to Pisa and the cost ranges from 6 to 10 Euros return, and the trip takes less than 20 minutes. The walking tour below is from the Pisa train station to the Leaning Tower and return.
Step 1 - The train station to the river
The station is in the south of Pisa. When you get off the train, walk to the street that directly faces the entrance. Walk on the right hand side of the street, for ease of crossing in the traffic. A block up the street is a large square called Piazza Vittorio Emanuele. Walk to your right to the second street - there is a gold colored building to the left of the street you want to take. This street is Corso Italia, and is a pedestrian shopping street.
As you walk the street, look up! The centuries turn back. You are gradually in the middle ages - going from the 18th and 19th centuries to the 12th and 13th, with the big homes of the merchant and upper class of medieval Pisa lining the street.
After about long three blocks, there is a street to the left, and opposite to it on the right, an arch.
Go through the arch and you will come to a square, lined with trees. Continue on to the second tiny street, and you will see ancient alleys. It is interesting how different generations built on to the original - or was this the original?
Go through this arch to the next street and turn left back to Corso Italia.
There are lots of other narrow streets that may lure you! You may get lost - but the river is to the north and wider, somewhat more modern streets to the south - Corso Italia to the west and to the east you are on your own.....
Just at the river on Corso Italia is the Logge di Banchi - a loggia is an open space with arches and a roof. This was built in the 1600's and wool and silks were sold here. Now it is occasionally used for an antique market. Oddly enough, there is a hotel in the basement.
The clock tower on the building across the street is a Pisa landmark.
Step 2 - The river to Piazza dei Cavalier
At the north end of the bridge, turn left along the river.
The Royal Victoria Hotel was a very popular place for British Victorians to stay - Charles Dickens liked to visit here. But the building that is now the hotel began in the 1100's with a tower-house built by the wine-makers guild, now seen in the alley behind the hotel, shortened and modernized.
The Palazzo Agostini is hard to miss..... the red brick building from the 1300's is well preserved with its amazing detail. One thing you will notice is that the Leaning Tower isn't the only thing that is leaning. (See the picture below.)
Walk past the red Palazzo and turn right on the first street, then again walk to the first street and turn right, onto Via Dominica Cavalca. Ahead of you is the tallest remaining tower-house in Pisa. It is called the Torre del Campano.
The tower houses are fascinating. To show their power, rich families in Tuscany built towers - the higher the better, trying to out-do one another. Some towers were as tall as 70 meters (230 feet), but when the towers got old or were hit by lightning or damaged in wars and started to come crashing down, a law was passed that said they could be no taller than 30 meters and the owners had to demolish the floors above that. Many can still be seen, but most now have been brought down to the level of the surrounding buildings. In this area of Pisa you can find many tower-houses, now remodelled into 3, 4 or 5 story houses.
Continue walking past the tall tower and then keeping the tower at your back walk into the next little square, and here are several towers from the 1200's. You can see where they have been bricked up, but the arch is still visible. The arches in Pisa have a slight point to help carry the weight. Tower houses usually had stables on the bottom floor so there were wide doors, and the door to the house was on the second floor.
If you walk past the tower and as straight as possible (don't make any 90 degree turns), you will go from one tiny square to another. In one there is a morning market with fresh fruit and vegetables. Continuing to walk as straight as possible, go through an arch into a bigger square, with porticos on all sides called Piazza delle Vettvaglie. Still going straight, you will come out onto Borgo Stretto, a pedestrian shopping street.
Turn left, and enjoy the wonderful stores. In a couple of blocks (although with the narrow alleys a 'block' is not easily defined) you will see a big red brick building on your right and a gold colored farmecia (drug store) on your left. Turn left by the farmecia onto Via Dini and walk just a few steps to a narrow alley on your left. Go down the alley to a small square and look up. Here is another tower-house, this time with a crenellated top.
Go back to Via Dini and turn left. In a short distance you come to Piazza dei Cavaliere, or Knight's Square.
Step 3 - The Piazza dei Cavalier to the Leaning Tower
What is now the Piazza dei Cavalier has always been the center of Pisa since Roman times. It was probably where the Roman Forum was situated and has been an important meeting place through the ages. In about 1560 it was changed to the Order of the Knights of St. Stephen by Cosimo I de’ Medici. The knights protected the port and the coast in this area from attacks from pirates and the Saracen ships.
The large building is Palazzo della Carovana. The decorations on the facade (someone on-line called them graffiti) were added by the Medici family. The statue in front is Cosimo I de’ Medici. The building is now used as part of a university.
On the right side of the Palazzo della Carovana is the church of Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri. The interior looks medieval - dark and decorated with 16th Century paintings and carving.
The Palazzo dell’Orologio below was originally two buildings, and were made one with the addition of the arch and clock tower joining them. In the time of the Medici family it was the infirmary of the Order of the Knights of St. Stephen.
Leave the square by the street to the left of the building with the clock and arch. Go straight ahead for several blocks until you come to a wide pedestrian street and turn right. This leads you to the Field of Miracles and the Leaning Tower.
Step 4 - Piazza Dei Miracoli
The medieval cathedral is dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta (St. Mary of the Assumption) and is also known as the Duomo. Construction began in 1064, and the church was faced with grey and white marble with Romanesque architecture. The interior, with mosiacs and pointed arches shows some Byzantine influence. The interior has black and white marble in stripes - somewhat off-putting. It is a majestic space and worth a good look if it is open to the public.
The tower is the cathedral bell-tower or campanile. The construction began in the 1100's and the tower began to lean during the building due to the soft soil. Construction ended in the 1300's. In the 1990's and early 2000's the tower was stabilized and the angle went from 5.5 to 3.99 degrees. Now tourists can climb the tower - buy tickets ahead on-line to prevent long waits.
The Baptistry is the largest in Italy. It is beautiful on the outside, but the inside is very simple and does not have much decoration.
The entrance to the square is at the far end, a gate in the old city wall. The wall goes along two sides of the Field of Miracles. The wall was built between 1155 and 1161 to protect the Duomo and other religious buildings. The wall does not go all around the city, just where it was considered vulnerable at the time. You can walk on the wall along its length of 3 km. (2 miles) on certain days.
Step 4 - Piazza Dei Miracoli to the train station
To go back to the train station the direct route goes down the street that is about even with the middle of the cathedral. This takes you straight to the river and a bridge. The alternate route is more interesting, and in the beginning is the street that you partially walked up and is even with the Leaning Tower. It leads to the river as well, and then you turn right to the bridge.
After you cross the river, turn left to see the tiny church Santa Maria della Spina. It was built in 1230 as a chapel for seamen, and it originally was down nearer river level. It is well known as an example of Gothic architecture. The interior is not very interesting but the outside is terrific. Walk around it!
Walk back to the bridge and continue south. After several blocks the street opens to a square. Immediately turn left, and walk beside the church. At the back of this church there is a pedestrian walk, and on the back wall of the church is a painting called 'Tuttomondo' by an American named Keith Haring. Tuttomondo means 'all the world' and the painting is dedicated to peace and love. It was Keith Haring's last painting, as he died several months later from AIDS. See how many happy things you can find in the painting!
Ahead is the Vittorio Emanuele square and the train station.
The walk is 4.5 km. / 2.8 miles.