The Architectural Wonders of Pisa’s Piazza del Duomo
You might be forgiven for thinking that Pisa only has one notable building: the famous Leaning Tower. But the UNESCO listed Piazza del Duomo, popularly known as the Piazza dei Miracoli, has four magnificent buildings, each of them a masterpiece of medieval architecture. If you arrive on a summer’s day, prepare to be stunned by the combination of dazzling white buildings, green grass and deep blue sky.
The Leaning Tower
Certainly it is the Leaning Tower (properly known as the Campanile, or Bell tower) that attracts the most tourists. It is always surrounded by people, posing for pictures or capturing a selfie. Even if it were perfectly upright, the Tower would be imposing, its exterior decked with rows of pillars and arches.
Buy yourself a timed ticket into the Tower, and tackle the arduous climb up almost 300 steps to the top. You will be rewarded with views of the city and of the surrounding Tuscan countryside.
The Tower is tiny by comparison with the other buildings of the Piazza del Duomo. The Romanesque Cathedral was at one time the largest cathedral in Europe. It is a confection of soaring columns and internal arches, crammed full with artworks and a 14th century marble pulpit festooned with ornate carvings of heroic figures.
As you leave the Cathedral, stop to look at the double bronze doors with their decorations of biblical scenes.
There are lots of reasons why you shouldn’t miss the Baptistry. Firstly, it is a fine building in its own right: double domed with an Islamic floor and a hexagonal marble pulpit (smaller than the one in the Cathedral but still impressive). Secondly, the form of the building creates a whispering gallery effect, causing sounds to echo around the domes. Make sure you stay long enough to hear it demonstrated by one of the Baptistry attendants (normally every half hour).
And finally, climb up to the upper gallery to look down into the building. Here you will find a window where you can get the best photographs of the Cathedral.
Campo Santo (Cemetery)
The Campo Santo is a vast cloistered cemetery, apparently built with original soil from Golgotha. The building is spectacular in itself, but you can also see frescoes, Roman sarcophagi and chapels containing holy relics.
If time permits, the neighbouring Museo delle Sinopie and Museo del Opera del Duomo have large collections of artworks.
Pisa has an international airport and good bus and train links to other towns in Italy. The Piazza del Duomo is an easy walk (just over a mile) from the railway station. Buy your tickets for all four buildings at the main ticket office.
If you want to eat after your visit ignore the fast food sellers clustered around the city wall and head down the Via Roma (opposite the Tower) towards the old town.