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Explore Pisa, Italy, Beyond the Leaning Tower

by Barbara Rogers

Mar 14, 2024

© Bogdan Lazar | Dreamstime.com

Destinations / Europe

If your family is planning to travel in central Italy, you’ll probably have Pisa on your itinerary. One of the world’s most famous travel icons is the Leaning Tower of Pisa, La Torre Pendente.


The tower wasn’t intended to become famous for its failure to stand up straight, but its tilt toward the north began before the third level was completed. The tower sat unfinished for a century before construction resumed, with slightly longer walls on the north to help balance the weight. But it still leaned by more than 5 degrees when the marble bell chamber was added in the late 1500s. In the 1990s, extensive restoration stabilized the tower, and today you can climb the 294 steps up the slanting spiral staircase to the top platform.


There’s more to this ancient port city than its tilting tower, though, and Pisa is worth more than a quick stop and climb.


The tower is the bell tower for the Duomo, Pisa’s cathedral, which stands next to it. One of the most magnificent of Italy’s many landmark churches, Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta is a treasure house of art, where you can see works of the finest medieval artists and craftsmen.


The artistic highlights in the cathedral are the Cimabue mosaic above the main altar, the bronze doors and the beautiful carved pulpit by Giovanni Pisano. A second carved pulpit by Pisano is in the Baptistery, the third building in this complex known as Campo dei Miracoli (Field of Miracles). On the same ticket, you can browse through the adjacent Cathedral Museum to see breathtaking gold and silver works and, from its second floor, get the best close-up view of the tower.


From the Campo dei Miracoli, follow Via Maffi to reach Borgo Stretto, where you’ll find restaurants and shops. Arcades line the narrow street, a popular place for Pisans to stroll and shop. Stop to see the collection of Italian art at Palazzo Blu, easy to spot for its blue façade.


More surprising is a newer work of art, one of Europe’s largest public murals, created by Keith Haring in 1989. One of Haring’s last works, Murale Tuttomondo is a colorful and animated message of humans and animals sharing the natural world in harmony.


If you’re using Pisa as a base for touring Lucca and the Tuscan hill towns, you might want to also take a break at one of the wide sand beaches that line the coast south of Pisa.


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