We at the Social Media Team notice when other bloggers write great articles, and one of my favourite writers is Gloria aka @CasinaDiRosa, who lives in Pisa and writes the blog At Home in Tuscany. Since this week we're talking about "Pisa beyond the Leaning Tower", including what to eat in Pisan territory, I thought it best to ask an expert resident for her opinions.
For most travelers Pisa is just its Leaning Tower. But if you take the time to walk through the center, you will soon discover that Pisa is in fact much more than its world-famous bell tower... In fact, just Piazza dei Miracoli itself has enough to entertain you for hours with its other outstanding monuments! But if you go "beyond the tower" you'll find many other things... These are my five favourite "hidden gems".
1) Church of San Francesco
The Church of San Francesco is a real hidden gem. Behind a modest 17th-century marble facade tucked in between later buildings hides a textbook 13th-century Franciscan church, presenting a mixture of late Romanesque and early Italian Gothic styles, with a 70 meter long single nave and several chapels, a very tall truss ceiling and fabulous stained-glass windows, as tall as the apse, behind the main altar. The highlights of the church are frescoes in the choir by Taddeo Gaddi (one of Giotto’s disciples) , the tomb of Count Ugolino della Gherardesca in the second chapel in the right-hand wing of the transept and the 14th century cloister. A curiosity: Cimabue’s Maestà was made for this church, but it is now on display at the Louvre museum in Paris.
2) Museum of San Matteo
Beyond the museums at Piazza dei Miracoli, Pisa has a number of smaller museums about which you can read in this article "minor museums in Pisa". The Museo di San Matteo (Piazza San Matteo in Soarta, 56127 Pisa) houses the works of art of leading 12th-17th century Pisan and Tuscan artists and a rich collection of archaeological treasures. I visited it a few years back, and for some reason, the part I loved the most and which I remember best was the part dedicated to sacred art. I especially loved the wooden sculptures, the large medieval wooden Crosses, and the paintings of the Virgin Mary.
Three Piazze in Pisa
3) Piazza dei Cavalieri is the second largest square in the city. In the Middle Ages it was known as Piazza delle Sette Strade (Square of the seven streets) and was the center of political power. Rebuilt during the Renaissance period, the main buildings were designed by the architect Giorgio Vasari. The square houses the only Renaissance style church in the city: Church of Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri.
The other remarkable buildings – both belonging to Scuola Normale Superiore, one of the most prestigious universities in Italy – are Palazzo della Carovana and Torre dell’Orologio. The former is a 16th century palace with frescoed façade, once the headquarters of the powerful military order of the Knights of St. Stephen. The latter, now a library, is said to be the tower were Count Ugolino della Gherardesca was imprisoned and left to starve with his children. The story is told by Dante in his Divine Comedy and is commemorated by a plaque on the building.
4) Piazza delle Vettovaglie has been the thriving heart of the city since the Middle Ages. Once simply called Piazza dei Porci (Pigs’ square), it is a perfectly preserved 15th-century porticoed square, now home to a lively and colourful daily market. The many inexpensive restaurants and bars serving quick meals and excellent aperitivi are very popular among the large student population. The tall medieval buildings in the neighbouring Piazza Sant’Omobono house many old Italian-style botteghe (corner stores), mostly selling groceries (that’s the meaning of vettovaglie, a quite obsolete word nowadays). The square has several scaffolded buildings at present.
5) Piazza La Pera and Via San Martino are among my favourite places in Pisa. The official name of the square is actually Piazza Gambacorti. Its “unofficial” name derives from an Etruscan votive stone shaped like a pear and placed at the entrance from Via San Martino. The square is a popular spot among the local youth. Via San Martino, besides the uninterrupted succession of medieval and renaissance buildings, and the imposing eponymous church, houses a number of good restaurants, wine bars, pubs, and locales. To truly enjoy a walk along this street one needs to look up at the façades of the buildings and into the winding alleys between them: they are true jewels of medieval architecture.
A curiosity: there is a small marble statue of a woman placed on the façade of a building not far from the church of San Martino. Originally part of a Roman sarcophagus, it is believed to represent Kinzica dei Sismondi, an 11th century young noblewoman who saved Pisa from the Saracen invasion by ringing the bells of the city.
All photos are by Gloria unless otherwise noted. thanks!
And here's a photo gallery of "Pisa Beyond the Tower" that I made on Flickr.