Pisa is a splendid university town, though it is nowadays partly forgotten as a touristic destination. It lies on the river Arno, a few kms from the sea, and its exquisite architecture and majestic monuments will soon remind you of its epical past as one of the four Ancient Maritime Republics of Italy. In the common imagination it is impossible to separate Pisa from the great monumental complex of Piazza del Campo, or Campo dei Miracoli, the Field of Wonders, with its strong visual impact and beautiful chromatic effect given by the green surrounding lawn and the very white bulks of the monuments: the Cathedral, the Baptistery (both in Pisan-Romanic style), the great Churchyard, and, last not least, the Leaning Tower, that is the imposing, inclined Bell Tower of the complex, which became centuries ago the very symbol of the city.
This unmissable and world-renowned treasure was declared part of “humankind’s heritage” by UNESCO. Very near is also the beautiful Piazza dei Cavalieri, surrounded by majestic palazzi from the sixteenth century, such as the Palazzo dei Cavalieri, with its facade by Vasari, now seat of a famous University, the Scuola Normale Superiore (founded by Napoleon in 1810). There are also the Palazzo dell’Orologio (Sundial), and the Torre della Muda, or the Tower of Hunger, as it is also named, where the Count Ugolino died, as recorded in one of the most celebrated cantos in Dante’s Inferno. The historical centre boasts many churches and architectural testimonies, mostly from Renaissance times, but also from the middle Ages, and an imposing scenographical view is offered by the Lungarni and by the many noble mansions and palazzi lining them and overlooking the river. Here are many important museum, such as the Museo Nazionale di San Matteo, hosted by the former monastery of San Matteo Church, or the small Church of Santa Maria della Spina, a true jewel of Pisan Gothic Style, and the recently transformed Palazzo Blu, an ancient noble palace that became in recent years a seat of art and culture, with many both permanent and temporary exhibitions, and constitutes a museums system of sorts along with the other venues in town. And you cannot miss a pleasant, relaxing walk in the centre, with its many streets and alleys and small squares, a shopping area extended over various streets, and many taverns, wine bars and restaurants. Pisan traditional cuisine, also amply present, offers many interesting genuine specialities and wholesome products of these lands. The general atmosphere is very lively, both by day and by night, when many students and tourists crowd the Lungarni.
Pisa can also be a relaxing and quiet city. Citizens and students mix in the Lungarni, the throbbing heart of the city’s life, but you can leisurely stop in one of the many cafes and bars, and savour a glass of fine wine while enjoying the wonderful sight of the buildings and the river with the mountains in the background, a view which is particularly impressive at twilight.
If you are in Pisa in June, you can enjoy the many events of the “Pisan June”, reaching their apex with the “Luninaria” on June 16, when the Lungarni and the whole city are made beautiful and almost surreal by a multitude of small candles over the buildings and bridges. Just outside the city, if you are interested in nature you cannot miss the Parco di San Rossore, a Biosphere Reserve instituted by UNESCO within the MAB (Man and Biosphere) Programme for reconciling environmental issues and sustainable development. Also of great interests the maritime resorts of Marina di Pisa, with its characteristic art nouveau villas and buildings, and Tirrenia, lying among the pinewood. Not to be missed the spectacular complex of the Pisa Chartreuse, near Calci in the countryside, which also hosts, along with the ancient monastery, the extremely interesting Museo di Storia Naturale dell’Università di Pisa, one of the world’s oldest natural history museums, in a beautiful architectural and natural setting.