A short trip to Piazza Martiri della Libertà, where the Scuola Superiore di S. Anna (center of excellence) is located, takes us to the first stop: the Church of Santa Caterina di Alessandria which preserves extraordinary works of art, including the sepulcher by Bishop Simone Saltarelli, created by Nino Pisano, an altarpiece depicting the Glory of St. Thomas Aquinas, by Francesco Traini, and an ancient chair from which tradition has it that the saint held sermons and lessons.
Returning to Piazza dei Cavalieri (home of the prestigious Scuola Normale Superiore) is the Church of San Sisto, on whose façade some ceramic basins are still visible. Here the Maritime Republic used to celebrate its military victories on 6 August, in honor of the saint. Destiny however wanted that on the same date in 1284 the battle of the Meloria was fought, and marked the definitive defeat against the rival Genoa and the decline of Pisa.
Third stop is the Church of San Nicola, characterized by the singular bell tower, one of the three hanging bell towers of Pisa together with the famous Leaning Tower and that of San Michele degli Scalzi (which we will touch later). The interior shows an elegant helicoidal marble staircase opened by a colonnade of classical capitals.
Fourth stage, one of the oldest streets in Pisa, Borgo Largo, with the Church of San Michele in Borgo: the lower part of the beautiful façade is marked by some writings referring to an election of the University Rector of the seventeenth century. Archaeological excavations have unearthed an ancient brick road, the monastery structures from the end of the century. XIII and some silos to preserve the grain.
A few more steps towards Piazza Cairoli (which the Pisans call “della Berlina” because those who were tainted with crimes were exposed to public disdain) where is the Church of San Pietro a Vinculis (or San Pierino) which boasts a splendid crypt which is accessed from the inside via a staircase. It develops on four naves with cross vaults partly still enriched with frescoes of the fourteenth century. The crypt was formerly used as a cemetery, so that on some columns the names of the buried can still be read.
We are here in the heart of Pisa, a few steps from the Arno river and the Ponte di Mezzo, with all kinds of shops and bars, for all budgets.
Nearby the market in Piazza delle Vettovaglie and the Teatro Verdi, with a rich program of prose, dance and opera performances.
Continuing along Lungarno Mediceo, there is the Church of San Matteo in Soarta, right next to the National Museum of San Matteo, which houses beautiful collections of paintings and sculptures from the Pisan school from the 12th to the 18th century. The church, annexed to a female Benedictine monastery of 1027, still retains sections of masonry with blind arcades decorated with oculi and recessed lozenges.
Now the longest stretch of road awaits us, passing through Viale delle Piagge, the main urban green lung and a suitable space for jogging or just for a cool walk. We arrived at the Church of San Michele degli Scalzi, characterized by the third leaning bell tower due to the collapse of the ground on the side towards the Arno. The church was built in an extra-urban area at the end of the 12th century by Apulian monks and has a basilica plan with three naves. The church is a wedding venue.
Returning to the Arno river, we cross the Fortress Bridge and go to the southern part of the Arno, the one that during the Gioco del Ponte the last Saturday of June is called Mezzogiorno (the northern part is called Tramontana). If you have children in tow, you can take a break in the Giardino Scotto where there is an area equipped with outdoor games. Or enter the Graphics Museum at Palazzo Lanfranchi. Or continue until the next stop: the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, home of the Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem, (knightly order born in the Holy Land to assist pilgrims and present in Pisa as early as 1113). It is a building with a curiously octagonal plan, as if to remember some buildings seen by the Pisans during the first Crusades in Jerusalem, such as the Dome of the Rock, by the architect Diotisalvi, also author of the Baptistery in Piazza dei Miracoli.
We pass in front of Palazzo Blu, home of the most important exhibits in the city (especially the one in autumn) and the Church of Santa Maria della Spina and we arrive at the Church of San Paolo in Ripa d’Arno, also known as the Old Cathedral. Because for a certain period it represented for the Pisans the main church, waiting for the construction of the Cathedral in Piazza dei Miracoli to be completed. It is an imposing building, with a scheme similar to the Duomo, with three floors of loggias on columns with capitals, blind arches, lozenges, human figures and monsters.
On the opposite bank of the river stands the bulk of the Guelph Tower but above all that of the Medici Arsenals, home of the new Museum of Ancient Ships of Pisa (inaugurated in June 2019) … But this is part of another story and above all of another itinerary!
Anyone interested in learning more about the Pisan Romanesque: www.pisanromanesquemeets.it
For more information on the opening times of the monuments and the costs contact the Tourist Office of the Municipality of Pisa at 050.550100.