22km (14 miles) S of Lucca; 81km (50 miles) W of Florence; 334km (208 miles) NW of Rome
It’s ironic that one of the most famous landmarks in a country that has given Western civilization many of if its greatest artistic and architecture masterpieces is an engineering failure. Built on sandy soil too unstable to support the weight of so much heavy marble, the city’s famous tower began to lean even while it was still under construction. Eight centuries later, the Leaning Tower puts Pisa on the map, and seeing it, maybe climbing it, and touring other landmarks on the Campo dei Miracoli (Field of Miracles) is probably why you’ll come to this city near the northwestern coast of Tuscany.
Pisa began as a seaside settlement around 1000 b.c. and was expanded into a naval trading port by the Romans in the 2nd century b.c. By the 11th century, the city had grown into one of the peninsula’s most powerful maritime republics. In 1284, Pisa’s battle fleet was destroyed by Genoa at Meloria (off Livorno), forcing Pisa’s long slide into twilight. Florence took control in 1406 and despite a few small rebellions, stayed in charge until Italian unification in the 1860s. Today Pisa is lively and cosmopolitan, home to a university founded in 1343, one of Europe’s oldest. Once away from the Campo die Miracoli, however, there’s not a whole lot to see, so you may want to join the ranks of day trippers who visit from Florence or nearby Lucca.