Everyone comes to Pisa to see one of the world's most famous attractions - the Leaning Tower. While it's an extremely popular destination, we didn't choose Pisa because we wanted to visit the tower. We went there because it turned out to be the best (and cheapest) gateway to the beautiful region of Italy - Tuscany, where you can find: Cinque Terre, Florence and other, less known destinations like Siena and a charming medieval town built on a steep cliff - Pitigliano. But as we already were in Pisa, we decided to give it a go and find out if this little town had anything else in its offer.
Arriving in Pisa
Before we traveled to Pisa, we’d read some blogs and heard others saying that there’s absolutely nothing to see there besides the Leaning Tower. And it’s enough to see the tower within an hour or so. This was the reason why we chose to spend only a half day in Pisa.
When we visit a place, we also love to venture to the less known, little streets so we thought we’ll walk all over Pisa and see the town for what it really is rather than only go to the Leaning Tower.
We arrived in Pisa in the evening and the first thing that's amazing about it was that we actually didn’t need to take any transport from the airport! You can just walk out of the arrival hall and in 20 minutes you’re in the town – at the main railway station. To get to the Leaning Tower and Piazza del Duomo, it takes another 25 minutes or so. This is how small the town of Pisa is!
When walking by the main station and entering some streets, we got the impression that we’re in some unknown, neglected town in Eastern Europe rather than in one of the most famous destinations in Italy (or even in the world). To be honest, even when traveling in places like the Balkans, towns seemed to be cleaner and more organized.
But I’m not saying that it was a bad impression – I like it when a place has a more natural, local feeling - even if it’s messy, rather than perfectly groomed and well maintained just for tourists. Anyway, the areas around train stations are usually run-down (maybe with the exception of Eastern Europe – train stations in Kyiv, Moscow or Almaty are a piece of art – check it out by clicking on the links).
Pisa beyond the Leaning Tower
Pisa beyond the famous Leaning Tower is just another, ordinary Italian town. You won’t find anything extraordinary in here, but it’s nice enough to walk around and get the vibe of the more local, hidden from the tourists side. The architecture in the historical part is similar to that of other cities in the north of Italy.
What’s surprising in Pisa, considering the fact that it's one of the most famous destinations in the world, is that some of the beautiful monuments and churches are in an urgent need of renovation and sometimes they’re just left alone and slowly crumble down. It’s a bit sad sight, especially in contrast to the lavishly perfect Piazza del Duomo which is the home of the monumental Pisa Cathedral and the Leaning Tower.
There are, however some interesting and beautiful spots in Pisa that we encountered while walking around within one afternoon:
- Fortification Walls – dating back to the 12th Century. Similarly to other European cities, Pisa also has its fortification walls encompassing the entire ancient center of the city. Lots of parks and green areas around the walls – perfect for a picnic or to get some rest.
- River Arno – the famous river that flows through Florence, also reaches Pisa before its final destination in the Mediterranean Sea. This is the most charming and beautiful part of Pisa. Especially around the carefully decorated, little church called Santa Maria della Spina.
- Near the cute little church, there is another beautiful and sad sight at the same time – San Paolo a Ripa d'Arno. This church is closed for renovation – however I didn’t see any works – it seemed that it’s just left alone to deteriorate. Let’s hope it will soon be restored to its original state and become an attraction.
- The Old Citadel and the Guelph Tower – dating back to the 13th century, the tower was destroyed and then recently rebuilt. Although it’s possible to visit it, its grandeur is long gone and the surrounding area is pretty run down.
- Piazzas – typical squares found in Italian cities. You can find beautiful churches, palaces and monuments in them. Apart from numerous slamm piazzas, we saw Piazza Vittorio Emmanuele II (which is the nearest to the train station and quite neglected) and Piazza dei Cavalieri (knights’ square) with monumental Palazzo della Carovana and Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri church.
- Other churches: San Frediano and San Nicola
- The Mural of Keith Haring – completed in 1989, it is an original, unique attraction not related to the history or old architecture but rather to an idea. The mural made by the world famous artist represents peace and harmony where all the shapes and figures intertwine with each other representing the way different people cross their life paths in various situations.
Piazza del Duomo (Square of Miracles) and the Leaning Tower
Piazza del Duomo which also has another name – Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles) is where everyone wants to get while in Pisa. And, it was the only place in this Italian town where we really felt it’s a tourist destination – in all other parts, there were very few visitors. It seemed that those crowds present at the Piazza del Duomo came mostly from organized tours – and this is basically the only thing they see in Pisa. If you want to avoid crowds whatsoever, go there after dark – the place has a different charm and is nearly empty!
Piazza del Duomo is where the famous Pisa Cathedral (11th century), Baptistery and the Leaning Tower stand. What did we think about it when we got there? The cathedral is enormous in size and beautifully decorated. It is a piece of art and it’s truly impressive. It’s definitely worth noticing! What about the tower then? It is the tower that everyone is talking about after all.
I wonder if the Leaning Tower would be so famous if it hadn't been for the unintentional tilt caused by the surface which was softer on one side. It’s the fact of "leaning" that attracts so many visitors and tourists who want to take the famous photo while “pushing” the tower up.
Nevertheless, it was a surprising and pretty cool experience, especially when climbing the tower and standing on the crooked floor on top of the tower. The only bad thing about a place like the Leaning Tower is the price – which is around 30 EUR and in season, should be booked before because you can wait an hour or more…
Summing up, it is worth to visit both Pisa and the Leaning Tower – it is unique. It’s a nice experience – but at the same time only “nice”. It won’t leave you with the feeling that you’ve experienced something completely unforgettable, out of this world. But anyway, it’s good to see it, even if you don’t decide to climb the tower. So go to Pisa, spend a day there and then explore the rest of the amazing region – the trails of Cinque Terre and less known medieval towns and villages.
Author: Tom @ Adventurous Travels
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