Pisa is worldly famous for its Leaning Tower, but if you decide to discover more of the city, you will be astonished by its artistic treasures.
Piazza dei Miracoli is a real jewel of Romanesque architecture: the magnificence of the square will overwhelm you as you pass through Porta Nuova, one of the ancient gates of the Medieval city walls.
The Duomo (1064), known in the past as the "snow-white marble temple", is not only an architectural masterpiece, it is also evidence of the religious devotion of the people of Pisa, as well as a symbol of its wealth and power in the Middle Ages. Inscriptions are still visible on the outside celebrating naval victories.
The interior features a magnificent gilded wooden ceiling, a long women's gallery, a huge glittering mosaic over the main altar, a pulpit by Giovanni Pisano and the so-called Galileo lamp. The grave of the Emperor Henry VII lies close to that of the town's patron saint.
The Monumental graveyard is also a "must-see" place, featuring many Roman graves, frescoes by the Medieval painter Buffalmacco, as well as those by the renowned Renaissance artist Benozzo Gozzoli.
The Baptistry, erected in the 12th century, a few years before the Bell Tower, boasts amazing columns with floral decoration, portraits of the Virgin Mary and the Apostles, as well as stories from the life of St. John the Baptist. We suggest a visit inside both of the Cathedral and the Graveyard.
About 15 minutes away from the Cathedral is Piazza dei Cavalieri, acknowledged as one of the most important examples of late Renaissance city planning and architecture. From there, a short walk will lead us into the University district.
If you're coming by car we suggest meeting in front of the cafè at the Pietrasantina car park (free of charge!). This car park is located just 15 minutes away from Piazza dei Miracoli.
Across San Giuliano Terme and S. Maria del Giudice, on a beautiful plain surrounded by mountains and hills scattered with ancient castles, villas and picturesque villages, Lucca will unveil its quiet yet unique beauty.
Lucca was successively an important Roman colony, the Lombards' headquarters in Tuscany, one of the main stations on the pilgrims' route to Rome (the Via Francigena), a center for the silk trade and a flourishing Renaissance town. It remained a city-state for centuries, and was later ruled by Princess Elisa Buonaparte. It is also the burial place of Ilaria del Carretto and the birthplace of Boccherini and Puccini. Nowadays it offers the visitor an astonishing variety of artworks, delicious food specialties, and traditional handicrafts.
A visit to Palazzo Mansi, former residence of a rich family of merchants, is therefore a must: baroque architecture combines perfectly with richly decorated, shining wall tapestries, allegorical frescoes and the so-called Prince's Alcova, where princes and kings were housed. This provided the location for "Il Marchese del Grillo", a famous Italian movie starring Alberto Sordi, which was also filmed in the Palazzo Controni Pfanner, whose garden we'll see from the city walls.
Before reaching the Church of San Paolino, a stop at the chocolate shop Caniparoli is a particularly inviting temptation which we would suggest you not to resist! Walking along the route of the Roman East-West road, we'll get to the house where Puccini was born, which we'll see from the outside.
We'll then proceed to the Church of San Michele, located in the area of the former Roman Forum, and to Piazza Anfiteatro, where, in the 1st Century AD, a huge amphitheatre was erected for the entertainment of the populace.
Next we'll go to the Guinigi Tower, once the property - like many buildings in the area - of the Guinigi family, who ruled Lucca from 1400 to 1430. There it will be possible to visit a workshop where items in silk are still produced using traditional craftsmen's techniques, with the recycling of old fibers. Walking across the area where the Knights of Altopascio - who protected pilgrims against thieves in the surrounding of Lucca - had their seat, we'll see from outside the Music School where Puccini studied.
After a stop in Piazza Bernardini and Piazza San Giusto, the Lucca tour will continue and we'll reach the Cathedral, where we'll see the Volto Santo, the famous Crucifix which was even reproduced on Lucca's coins in the past. In the Sacresty we'll see one of the most famous sculptures of the Renaissance, that is the funerary monument of Ilaria del Carretto. The tour will end in Piazza Napoleone.
Round-trip with private car/van: from €450
Fully guided Pisa and Lucca Tour (optional, not included in the cost of the van): €300
Pisa: € 2 Duomo, € 6 Monumental Graveyard + Duomo, € 15 Leaning Tower (€ 17 if you book on line).
Lucca: € 4 Palazzo Mansi, € 2 Ilaria del Carretto, € 6.5 Palazzo Mansi + Guinig