If you read the previous post about the Charterhouse of Pisa, you can follow the easy directions in this post to locate the parking area at the Campo dei Miracoli near the Leaning Tower.
On To Pisa!
For those of us who have driven the confusing streets of Pisa, finding a simple way to the parking area near the Campo dei Miracoli, the Field of Miracles where the Duomo, Baptistery and Campinele (Bell Tower – the “Leaning Tower”) are located, is often a mind-boggling challenge.
From the Charterhouse of Pisa, you simply retrace your drive back to the intersection of the main road you came on from Lucca. When you reach the intersection with the SS-12, turn left on Via Statale Abetone (SS-12) toward Pisa. Typical to roads and streets in Italy, the SS-12 changes names as you approach the center of Pisa. You will drive on the Via Statale Abetone, the Via Lucchese, the Via Brennero and the Via Contessa Matilda and all are the same road!
As you enter Pisa, proper, you will drive along a tall brick wall on your left and, when you come to a traffic circle, look for signs pointing to a parking area (“P”) and the Campo dei Miracoli/ Torre Pendente (Leaning Tower). Follow those signs and you will find the parking area entrance about 100 meters from the traffic circle on your right.
Plan on leaving your car there for the day. This parking area does not permit overnight parking, so be sure to check the open/close times before leaving for the sights of the city. (NOTE: This parking area is open from 6:30AM to 11:30PM daily. Cost is Euro 2.00 per hour, or portion of an hour. Push the button on the entrance gate kiosk. You will receive a round green token. KEEP IT WITH YOU. Before leaving the parking are, you must present that token for payment.)
The Campo dei Miracoli
What more needs be said about the most famous engineering failure in the world? They got it wrong and the world comes to see the bell tower as it leans precipitously over the Museum of the Works of the Duomo. Tickets to enter and climb the Leaning Tower are only available on the day you visit and are strictly controlled. For those of you who suffer from vertigo, keep in mind that there are few handrails, particularly out on the various colonnaded levels of the structure…and its a long way down.
If you have at least two hours to spare, especially during the summer months, you may be able to purchase tickets to visit the tower.
The Duomo of Pisa (1063 -1360) is a huge, gloriously carved, building. The western facade is covered with marble carved statues and busts, the interior an awe inspiring and cavernous space. With Giovanni Pisano’s restored pulpit (1302 – 1311) as a centerpiece of the nave, black and white stripped columns and huge altar, this is a place sure to impress.
My best recommendation while at the Campo is the enter the Bapistery, find a place to sit and wait. Every twenty minutes, or so, the guard of the Baptistery will call “Silenzio” (Silence), close the entrance door and will stand at the base of the Baptismal font. He will begin to sing various notes and the echoes of the Baptistery create their famous magic. I will say no more, other than to go and experience.
Marco’s Recommended Top Nine Things to See in Pisa
1. Museo delle Sinopie and the Camposanto
During WWII, a bomb hit the Campo Santo, the cemetery located on the grounds of Campo dei Miracoli. As roof lead melted from the ensuing fire, all but a few of the Renaissance frescoes that once covered the interior walls of the cemetery were destroyed. In a few rooms of the cloister are a few restored frescoes by Benozzo Gozzoli, one of the most famous Renaissance fresco painters. Viewing them gives visitors an idea of what was lost as a result of the bombing.
Sinope, a red paint, was used to outline the design by the master or one of this apprentices before a fresco was
painted. Much like a ‘cartoon,’ these designs were all that was left of most of the frescoes after the fire. The museum offers a unique and unusual opportunity to view these ‘remains’ of what was an incredible collection of invaluable Renaissance art. It is rarely crowded.
I’ve also included with this number One on the list, the Camposanto (“Holy Field” – Cemetery) of the Campo dei Miracoli. As mentioned, the Camposanto was badly damaged during the war. A few of the frescoes were salvaged after the fire, and these can be viewed in rooms of the Camposanto. Even a brief visit to these rooms will give you an idea of the beauty that once covered the walls of the cemetery.
2. Walk from the Campo dei Miracoli to the Orto Botanico
It is a surprising fact that of the hundreds of thousands of visitors to Pisa each year, few
even know that a University even exists in the city. The walk from the leaning tower into the heart of the University and beyond is an easy and fascinating opportunity to learn more about this surprising and historic city.
The Via Santa Maria heads south away from the Duomo and Leaning Tower. You will find the start of the Via Santa Maria just past the store called Barsanti G et Fighli and almost across the street from the Museo del Opera del Duomo (Museum of the Works of the Duomo). Head down the Via Santa Maria and turn right in front of the church of San Giorgio ai Tedeschi. Follow the signs to the Botanical Gardens.
In 1544, Cosimo di Medici funded the first ever Botanical Garden in Europe for the University of Pisa. Though the garden has been moved twice since its founding, it now offers a much larger planted space and is a delightful alternative to the paved streets of the city. Entrance is free. See “If You Go” below for further details.
As you exit the Botanical Gardens, continue straight ahead on to the Via dei Mille. This short street ends at the Piazza dei Cavalieri, one of the most beautiful squares in Pisa.
3. Piazza Dei Cavalieri (with three more of the “Nine Top Things to see in Pisa”)
The piazza was once the hub of commercial and political activity in the city. Built on the remains of the ancient Roman Forum, it is a huge space – second in size to the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele on the south side of the Arno River-and offers stunning views of three incredible and historical structures.
4. Palazzo della Carovana
The large Palazzo (Palace) that fronts the square is famous for its etched exterior walls, referred to as ‘graffiti’. Designed by Georgio Vasari, a famous Renaissance architect, the building was established by Cosimo di Medici (Florence) as the home of the Knights of St Stephen, a religious and military order. The Palace is also called the “Palazzo della Carovana,” which translates to the Palace of the Convoy. Initiates into the order endured a three year training period that was called “The Convoy,” hence the name.
The palace is now home to the Scuola Normale Superiore, the school attended by the most academically gifted students preparing for university studies.
5. Palazzo dell’Orologio
Also facing the square is the Palazzo dell’Orologio. This beautiful building was constructed between 1605 and 1608 by combining two towers.
A clock (orologio) was built in the structure that connects the two towers. The combined buildings were used to house the aged members of the Knights of St. Stephen. There are stories, some included in Dante’s Inferno, about terrible events that befell Count Ugolino della Gherardesco during that family’s imprisonment in 1289. Absent those stories, it is a lovely building.
You can read of the Gherardesco history in the 33rd Canto of Dante’s Inferno.
6. Church of Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri
On yet another part of the Piazza is the Church of Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri. The church was constructed as the place of worship, the home church, of the Knights of St. Stephen. Construction took place between April of 1565 and December 21 of 1569, the date of the church’s consecration.
When you leave the piazza, follow the Via Frediano Curatone toward the Arno River.
You will pass directly in front of a main building of the University of Pisa.
7.University of Pisa
Founded in the middle of the 14th Century (most scholars agree that 1343 was the founding date) the University is one of the oldest in both Italy and Europe. Despite turmoil during the Renaissance, the university has survived and thrived, now listed as the best university in Italy. The unique architectural style of the buildings, and the ease of taking time on the campus to explore, gives visitors a fascinating perspective on this historic and famous educational institution.
As you continue along the Via Frediano Curatone, you will come to the Arno River. This wide and muddy river cuts through the center of the city,
eventually emptying into the Mediterranean Sea at Marina di Pisa.
Turn right and walk along the river. The bridge you see up ahead is the one you use to cross the Arno-the Ponte Solferino. The bridge was damaged beyond repair during the floods of November 1966. Construction started again in 1969 giving the bridge its present form.
8. Santa Maria della Spina – The Gothic Jewel
As you cross the Arno river, look to your left and you will one of the most beautiful Gothic churches in Europe, Santa Maria della Spina. It was constructed in 1230 and is named for a thorn (Spina) that is believed to have crowned the head of Christ at the crucifixion. To protect the building from further water damage, it was moved, stone by stone, in 1871 to its present location. The church’s exterior is far more ornate than the starkly beautiful interior. This church is often missed by visitors and I highly recommend a visit.
Arched promenades in Italy are relatively rare. Much like those of Bologna, the covered
arcades and walkways of Pisa provide protection from both summer sun and winter rains. Along both sides of the Via Francesco Crispi, the street you will enter on the south side of the Arno, are numerous shops and galleries offering everything from housewares to fine art. This is the main shopping area of Pisa and is a delight to experience, regardless of the time of year. Cafes and restaurants abound as well so this is a great place to find an outdoor table and enjoy Pisan life.
Here are a few additional places I love to visit when in Pisa.
Piazza Vittorio Emanuele
As you approach the end of the Via Frediano Crispi, you arrive at the largest piazza in Pisa, named for King Victor Emmanuele II, first King of a united Italy. Very close to this piazza are three places worth visiting.
Church of Sant’Antonio
Founded in the early 13th Century, the building suffered major damage during World War II. In 1952, the church was reopened for services.
Church of San Domenico
This small and unassuming building was built in 1395 and was once the church for a convent of Domenican nuns. The structure was nearly destroyed during World War II bombings. Currently used by the Knights of Malta, the restored building was finally reopened to visitors in 1998.
The Nathan-Roselli home houses the Center for Mazzinian Studies. Giuseppe Mazzini was a hero of the unification of Italy. There are several rooms that house memorabilia of his life and times. A huge library with over 25,000 volumes is available to those doing research on the Italian
Renaissance. Again, a little-known and often overlooked corner of Italy.
A recent restoration of the house included the Young Italy Oath, which Mazzini wrote, inscribed over the facade of the building. The oath was written as a means of uniting the youth of Italy at the time of unification. You can read the entire text at this link-
The photo shows the current appearance of the house.
IF YOU GO:
First, keep in mind that a number of the widest and loveliest streets in Pisa are now pedestrian only. This makes driving in the city nearly impossible, particularly in light of the many (MANY) cameras which photograph violators of the city’s control vehicles entering the historic center. Residents, service and public vehicles are issued a reader – and rental cards do not have them.
It is a much better idea to park at either the Campo dei Miracoli, at the parking areas near the train station or at the airport, then take a taxi or bus into the city. You need not risk the Euro 120.00 per violation ticket in Pisa. Rental car companies sometimes take up to eighteen months to track down violators, and they do catch up with you!
Walking Map of Central Pisa
1. Museo delle Sinopie
Tickets for the structures and museums in the Campo Dei Miracloi are combined as follows – prices are indicated at the end of each grouping.
1 monument among Battistero, Camposanto Monumentale, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Museo delle Sinopie 5,00 euro
2 monuments among Battistero, Camposanto Monumentale, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Museo delle Sinopie 6,00 euro
4 monuments among Battistero, Camposanto Monumentale, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Museo delle Sinopie 8,50 euro
Walk on the walls: 1,50 euro
January, February, November, December: 9:00-16:30
March, October: 9:00-17:30
April, May, June, July, August, September: 8:00-19:30
Closed on January 1th and on Christmas Day
For further informations:
Ph: +39 050560547
2. Botanical Gardens of the University of Pisa
Open weekday mornings
3. Piazza dei Cavalieri
(no web resources needed)
4. Palazzo della Carovana
5. Palazzo dell’Orologio
6. Church of Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri
7. University of Pisa
8. Santa Maria dell Spina
Lungarno Gambacorti, I-56100 Pisa, Italy