One of Italy’s great cities of history and art , Pisa is justly famous for its Leaning Tower and Piazza dei Miracoli. But there’s a less well-know side to its heritage that’s also well worth discovering : the historic centre with its Reinassance palazzos, medieval tower houses, Romanesque and gothic churches, and the warren of narrow streets and small piazzas that back the riverfront esplanades.
There’s much worth seeing here : Piazza dei Cavalieri with its church of the same name and the impressive graffito facade of the Palazzo della Carovana, the botanical gardens and the National Museum of San Matteo, with its unique collection of 12th- and 13th- century masterpieces. But Pisa’s also a young and dynamic city, with its university and prestigious research institutes: the Scuola Normale Superiore, the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, and the CNR (National Research Council).
It has much to offer in terms of leisure, too. There’s excellent shopping on Corso Italia and under the arcades of Borgo Stretto, and authentic trattorias around the market in Piazza delle Vettovaglie. A short boat trip downriver along the Arno is the San Rossore natural park, a protected area that’s given over to macchia and Mediterranean paintlife.
Open all year round. Pisa has a rich and eclectic programme of civic and cultural events: Pisan new year, the Internet Festival and Pisabookfestival during Giugno Pisano, the Luminara light festival, the historic regatta and the Battle of the Bridge pageant, the Regata delle Antiche Repubbliche Marinare (even four years) and the Anima Mundi festival of sacred music.
In the immediate environs of Pisa, sights worth seeing include the Romanesque basilica of San Piero a Grado, the Charterhouse of Calci with its museum of natural history, and the fortified village of Vicopisano, with its Palazzo Pretorio and castle designed by Brunelleschi.
A little way up the valley of the Arno are Pontedera, whose Piaggio museum is a place of pilgrimage for Vespa lovers from all over the world, and San Miniato, famed for its white truffles and the ideal base for exploring the surrounding countryside.
Overlooking the Valdera, Colline Pisane and Val di Cecina in the southern reaches of Pisa province rises the ancient town of Volterra, renowed for its Etruscan and medieval ruins and now home to a major Etruscan museum, a remarkably good art gallery, and a museum of alabaster.