The first settlements probably date from the ninth century BCE, although it was the Etruscans who considerably developed the residential centre, encouraged by its proximity to the Arno and the sea. This strategic position attracted the aims of the Ligurians. Pisa defended itself from their attacks, and became a Roman ally and later a Roman colony. Pisa’s importance as a Tyrrhenian port grew during the Lombardic period. It continued to expand by sea, taking control of Sardinia and participating actively in the first Crusade. With the wealth amassed during the sea battles, the Duomo, a masterpiece of Romanesque style, was built in the mid-eleventh century. The Baptistery, the Camposanto and the bell tower (the Leaning Tower) were added in later centuries.
The politically ambitious Pisa clashed with the aims of Genoa, Amalfi and Venice. Internally, the rivalry of the Della Gherardesca and Visconti families was followed by the establishment of the government of the twelve “People’s Elders”. The defeat at the hands of the Genoese in the Battle of Meloria, in 1284, began a long period of decay, studded with clashes with the Florentines, who took definitive control of the city in 1509, implementing a series of measures intended to drastically reduce the importance of their main commercial and political rival.
With Cosimo I de’ Medici, who loved Pisa’s milder climate, the city was reborn artistically: the Lungarni were rebuilt; Piazza dei Cavalieri and the Logge dei Banchi were built; Pisa began to look more and more as visitors see it today. Thanks to Pietro Leopoldo, Grand Duke of Tuscany, the university became a fundamental centre of Pisan life. It was Napoleon who founded the Scuola Normale Superiore school. The nineteenth century brought strong waves of support for Italian unification to Pisa; in fact the revolutionary Giuseppe Mazzini lived there until his death in 1872. Unfortunately, part of Pisa’s artistic wealth can no longer be seen, because heavy bombings in World War II destroyed entire neighborhoods.
Pisa stands on a flat area of alluvial origin, closed off by the Monti Pisani to the north and crossed by the Arno. It is Italy’s second largest floodplain, after the Po Valley. In Roman times the mouth of the Arno met the sea right in front of the city, but the shore is now 8 km away. Because it caused many floods, the course of the river was repeatedly diverted and now contains twists to slow down the flow somewhat. There is also a drainage channel that diverts the excess water towards Calambrone. To the west, the Pisan plain is bordered by a vast area lush with vegetation, within the territory of the Migliarino San Rossore and Massaciuccoli Park.