Pisa Travel Guide by Max Piecesni
The city's political zenith came late in the eleventh century with a series of victories over the Saracens : the Pisans brought back from Arab cultures long-forgotten ideas of science, architecture and philosophy. Decline set in with defeat by the Genoese in 1284, followed by the silting-up of Pisa's harbour. From 1406 the city was governed by Florence, whose Medici rulers re-established the University of Pisa, one of the intellectual forcing houses of the Renaissance; Galileo was one of the teachers there. Subsequent centuries saw Pisa fade into provinciality.
Since it was first laid out in the mid-eleventh century, Pisa's ecclesiastical centre has been known as the Campo dei Miracoli (Field of Miracles; also Piazza dei Miracoli or Piazza Duomo; www.duomo.pisa.it ). The four major buildings - the Duomo, its Bell-tower (which almost immediately slipped to become the Leaning Tower ), the Baptistry and the monumental cemetery of the Camposanto - were built on a broad swathe of grassy lawn just within the northern walls of the city. Nowhere else in Italy are the key buildings of a city arrayed with such precision, and nowhere is there so beautiful a contrast of stonework and open meadow. However, the turf rests on highly unstable sandy soil, which accounts for the tower's lean; take a look at the baptistry and you'll see that it leans the other way from the tower.
The rest of the city centre makes for some fine wandering, through alleys that have largely retained their medieval appearance. Southeast, on the river, is the Museo Nazionale di San Matteo , a fine collection of ecclesiastical art and sculpture, while west along the Arno is the lavish Palazzo Reale mansion and the city's huge Arsenale , the latter currently housing a display of items taken from ongoing excavations at the newly discovered site of Pisa's ancient harbour. One of Pisa's biggest surprises lurks in an unregarded piazza south of the river near the train station: covering one wall of an open bus station is the last-ever mural by US artist Keith Haring.
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Latest update: April 16, 2013