On a grassy lawn wedged into the northwest corner of the city walls, medieval Pisans created one of the most dramatic squares in the world. Often dubbed Piazza dei Miracoli (Piazza of Miracles) or Campo dei Miracoli (Field of Miracles), Piazza del Duomo’s elegant buildings epitomize the Pisan-Romanesque style. A subtle part of its appeal, aside from the beauty of the white marble-sheathed buildings, is its spatial geometry. If you were to look at an aerial photo of the square and draw connect-the-dot lines between the doors and other focal points, you’d come up with all sorts of perfect triangles and tangential lines.
Most of the monuments are linked on a combo ticket (admission to the Leaning Tower is separate). The cathedral is free, although you still need a ticket to reserve an admission time. Any other single admission is 5€; any two sites costs 7€; to access everything except the Leaning Tower costs 8€. (Accompanied children 10 and under enter everything except the Tower for free.) The Leaning Tower costs 18€ (no reductions), with admission via timed half-hour slots. You should reserve up to 20 days ahead of arrival in peak season, or if you are on a tight schedule. Anyone under 18 must be accompanied by an adult; children 8 and under are not allowed in the Tower. Main ticket offices are behind the Tower and Duomo, on the north edge of the piazza, and inside the Museo delle Sinopie: If you have no Tower reservation, head to one of them immediately to book for later in the day. For more information, visit www.opapisa.it.
First, spend a moment looking at the layout of Piazza del Duomo. A hidden part of the square’s appeal is its spatial geometry: If you take an aerial photo of the square and draw connect-the-dot lines between the centers, doors, and other focal points, you’ll come up with an array of perfect triangles and tangential lines of mathematical grace.
Buscheto, the architect who laid the Cathedral's first stone in 1063, kicked off a new era in art by building what was to become the model for the Pisan-Romanesque style. All its key elements are here on the facade ★, designed and built by Buscheto’s successor, Rainaldo: alternating light and dark banding, rounded blind arches with Moorish-inspired lozenges at the top and colored marble inlay designs, and Lombard-style open galleries of mismatched columns, stacked to make the facade much higher than the church roof. The main door was cast by students of Giambologna after a 1595 fire destroyed the original (the last surviving original door, which you can see in the Museo dell’Opera, was cast by Bonnano Pisano in 1180). On the back of the right transept, across from the bell tower, is a 2008 cast of the bronze Door of San Ranieri ★★★. Inside the Cathedral, on the north side of the nave, is Giovanni Pisano’s masterpiece pulpit ★★ (1302–1311)—it’s the last and perhaps greatest of the Pisano pulpits. Head over to the Battistero (Baptistery) ★ to see its prototype: a carved stone pulpit ★★ by Nicola Pisano (1255–60), Giovanni’s father. This father-and-son team created a number of masterful pulpits over the years, following this model. Heavily influenced by classical works, Nicola’s high-relief panels (a synopsis of Christ’s life) include pagan gods converted to Christianity as Madonnas and saints.
Aside from immersing yourself in this spectacle, take a little time to see the rest of the city, where much of the historic center is a well-preserved slice of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. From the Duomo, walk south on Via Santa Maria and turn left onto Via dei Mille to reach Piazza dei Cavalieri, the seat of government when Pisa was one of the world’s most powerful maritime republics. Dominating the square is a statue of Cosimo I Medici, a reminder that Florence conquered Pisa in the early 1500s and the city never regained its might or glory. Follow Via Ulisse Dini to Borgo Stretto, a lively shopping street; just off the street is Piazza delle Vettovaglie, where a fish and vegetable market fills a Renaissance loggia every morning except Sunday. As you reach the river, pause in the middle of Ponte di Mezzo to look at the palazzo-lined banks; in the Middle Ages this graceful span, rebuilt many times, was lined with shops, like the Ponte Vecchio in Florence. Tidily wedged onto the south bank, downstream from the bridge, is the exquisite little Chiesa di Santa Maria della Spina, an extravagant Gothic masterpiece wrought by Pisa’s leading Gothic sculptors, including Giovanni Pisano. From the south side of the bridge, shop-lined Corso Italia passes a graceful Florentine loggia and continues to the central train station. At Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, a slight detour to the west brings you to Via Zandonai and an unexpected sight: shortly before his death in 1990, New York street artist Keith Haring painted the giant Tuttomondo mural on the theme of “peace and harmony,” filling it with his trademark Pop Art figures.
Why does the Leaning Tower ★★★ lean? The main problem—and the bane of local engineers for 8 centuries—is that you can’t stack that much heavy marble on shifting subsoil and keep it all upright. Building began in 1173 under Guglielmo and Bonnano Pisano, who also cast the Duomo’s doors (see above). They reached the third level in 1185 when they noticed a lean, at that point only about 3.8cm (1 and 1/2 in.). Work stopped until 1275, under Giovanni di Simone. He tried to correct the tilt by curving the structure back toward the perpendicular, giving the tower its slight banana shape. In 1284, work stopped yet again. In 1360, Tommaso di Andrea da Pontedera capped it off at about 51m (167 ft.) with a vaguely Gothic belfry. In 2018, scientists discovered the lean was 4cm (1 and 1/2 in.) less than originally thought.
The walls of the Camposanto ★, or cemetery, were once covered with important 14th- and 15th-century frescoes by Taddeo Gaddi, Spinello Aretino, and Benozzo Gozzoli, among others. On July 27, 1944, however, American warplanes launched an attack against the city (which was still in German hands) and the Camposanto was accidentally bombed. The most fascinating panel to survive the bombing is the 1341 “Triumph of Death” ★, attributed to Florentine Buonamico Buffalmacco.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.