Believe it or no, describing what it's like to visit Pisa is a tough job. No doubt, Pisa's Leaning Tower is an Icon and Millions of travelers come here each year. For many, the fact that it is quite literally a "Mecca" for tourists is a good reason to stay away, however there is a very good reason why Pisa draws the crowds and it might just draw you too!
Let's put it this way, if you go to Pisa from June to September, you will be rubbing shoulders with a lot of people, but the fact of the matter is that Pisa is BEAUTIFUL. The architecture is a sight to behold and the truth be told, visiting Pisa is A LOT of fun for those that come!
Believe it or not, Pisa began life in about 1000 BC as a seaport. In the 2nd Centure BC, the Romans used it as a naval station and trading port. By the 11th Century the city had evolved into a major maritime power, rivalling Genoa, Venice and Amalfi. The Pisans raided and overwhelmed Amalfi in 1135, putting an end to Amalfi's maratime claims.
The Pisans were themselves defeated - by Genoa - in 1284, a defeat which started the City's steady decline. That decline was hastened when the River Arno, on whose banks the city stood, began to silt up. The Florentines took control in 1406 and retained it until the unification of Italy in the 1860s.
During its long period of prosperity, much of its wealth went into building some of Italy's most important and monumental buildings.
The famously leaning tower is the bell tower of the Duomo whose construction took over 200 years, starting in 1173 AD. The soil under the Tower started to subside on one side even during construction, and remedial efforts were ongoing up until 1999, when a solution was found. (Don't ask us what it was.)
The tower, the baptistry and the huge Duomo (100 yards long, with a massive nave, flanked by two aisles and 68 monolithic columns, are in the Romanesque style. The pulpit, considered by many as the most beautiful in Italy, was carved by Giovanni Pisano, who also did much of the carving in the baptistry.
They sit together around the Campo dei Miracoli - or "field of dreams", an expansive grassy area. Most tourists venture no further. They should.
The city boasts one of the oldest universities in the world, and was the birth place of Galileo Galilei. There are many cafes, trattorie, boutiques and flea markets. Quality - well, tourist grade. (If you want a great dinner, save your appetite and travel 15 km north to Lucca).
Approaching the city, the visitor to Lucca will be struck by the incredibly well preserved walls dating back to the 1500s which encircle the town, now transformed into a tree lined walk way. Once an Etruscan settlement, and subsequently a Roman Colony, Lucca preserves the ellipse of the Roman Amphitheatre and traces of Roman walls.
The Medieval appearance has hardly changed, with an urban architecture of narrow roads, towers and small squares overlooked by the numerous churches such as the Cathedral of St Martino, the Basilica of St Frediano, the Church of St Michele in Foro, the Farneta Charter House and the Palazzo Arcivescovile.
Lucca was the birth place of musicians such as Giacomo Puccini. The natural landscape is enchanting; dotted with splendid country mansions built between the 17th and 19th century. Lucca continues centuries' old commercial activities from the fabrication and marketing of silk to the production of local gastronomic specialties such as the traditional sweet buccellato of Lucca.