Once a maritime power to rival Genoa and Venice, Pisa now draws its fame from an architectural project gone terribly wrong: its iconic Leaning Tower. But the world-famous tower is only one of a trio of Romanesque splendours on the green carpet of the Piazza dei Miracoli – a serious rival to Venice’s Piazza San Marco for the title of Italy’s most memorable square. Pisa has a centuries-old tradition as a university town and swarms with students.
Possibly of Greek origin, Pisa became an important naval base under Rome and remained a significant port for many centuries. The city’s so-called golden days began late in the 9th century, when it became an independent maritime republic and a rival of Genoa and Venice. The good times rolled on into the 12th and 13th centuries, by which time Pisa controlled Corsica, Sardinia and most of the mainland coast as far south as Civitavecchia. Most of the city’s finest buildings date from this period, when the distinctive Pisan-Romanesque architectural style flourished.