Situated at a few kilometres from the mouth of the Arno river, Pisa praises a millennium history which reached its maximum glory at the times of the Maritime Republics.
Its name, by some important historians, comes from the Etruscan word for "river mouth": archaeological traces certify an impressive presence of Etruscan inhabitants already during the Iron Ages and mainly during the Archaic and Classic periods, when Pisa assumed an important position as connection between the Tyrrhenian Sea trade routes and the Etruscan inlands.
Already during the Middle Ages a quick economical and political growth was registered, when the city became a naval power imposing its hegemony even over ports in Sicily and Sardinia and when its armies participated to the First Crusade in the Holy Land in 1095.
After the disastrous defeat in the naval battle of "Meloria", submitted by the troupes of the rival Republic of Genoa, Pisa suffered a slow decline. Through the centuries the city became part of the Visconti dominion at first, then it was ruled by Florence and finally by the Lorena Family in the XVIII century.
Pisa is a chest of artistic treasures with its Romanesque and Gothic churches, its squares and important buildings that exalt the districts along the Lungarno (riverside) and in the old city.
Piazza dei Miracoli, declared, in 1987, from the UNESCO as part of the "World Heritage List", is without doubt the monumental centre of the city. The Leaning Tower, symbol of the city is the Bell Tower of the Cathedral.
This building was started in August 1173 and continued (with two long term interruptions) for approx. 200 years and was always faithful to the original project even though there is no certain trace of the author. In 1185 a downfall of the basement occurred and the inclination stopped the works for more than a century.
The assignment to complete the works was committed to the brilliant architect Giovanni di Simone, who had just completed the building of the bell tower of San Francesco and was able to prove his abilities to contain the damage of the inclination and so the works continued till 1284, date of the naval defeat of the Meloria. The top level of the tower, the seventh, where the Bell was located, was designed and finalized in the second half of the XIV century by the architect Tommaso Pisano.
The Cathedral entitled to Santa Maria Assunta (St. Mary of the Assumption), was built in the Middle Ages in a typical Romanesque-Pisano style during the maximum splendour ages of the Maritime Republic.
Construction began in 1063 by the architect Buscheto and is the originator of the distinctive Pisan Romanesque style in architecture. The mosaics of the interior show a strong Byzantine influence, while the pointed arches point to Muslim influences. Inside it hosts art masterworks such as the elaborately carved pulpit (1302-1310), made by Giovanni Pisano , the paintings of famous artists like Andrea del Sarto, Beccafumi, Sodoma and Sogliani, During the XII century the Cathedral was enlarged and the commitment was assigned to the architect Master Rainaldo . This is a five-naved cathedral with a three-naved transept and an oval Dome.
The construction of the Baptistery of St. John started in 1153 by the architect Diotisalvi who probably tried to replicate his previous work of the church of Holy Sepulchre in Pisa. The monument was rebuilt in 1278 as for an inscription that appears between two pillars on the inside of the Baptistery. The archways of the loggia outside are decorated with heads are sculptures of Nicola and Giovanni Pisano. Inside a wonderful octagonal Baptismal font by Guido Bigarelli is placed at the centre, whilst near the altar, arises the Pulpit sculpted between 1255-1260 by Nicola Pisano.
The building of the monumental Camposanto started 1278 by the architect Giovanni di Simone but was completed only in 1474; it is the Old Cemetery, closed in 4 arcades and lies at the northern edge of the Cathedral Square . It is a large Gothic cloister with paved archways. "Campo Santo" can be literally translated as "holy field", because it is said to have been built around a shipload of sacred soil from Golgotha, where Jesus Christ was crucified, brought back to Pisa from the Fourth Crusade by Ubaldo de' Lanfranchi, archbishop of Pisa in the 12th century.