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You say Pisa and you immediately think of the Leaning Tower, one of the most famous monuments in the world. But Pisa is much more than just its tower, it is also home to the extraordinary complex of buildings known as the Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles), with its magnificent cathedral and baptistery. Step away from the tower and you’ll discover the old town with Renaissance palaces, medieval tower-houses, churches in Romanesque and Gothic style, the Botanic Gardens (one of the oldest in Europe, recently restored), and the River Arno, which you can admire by walking through old streets called Lungarni. Pisa was the birthplace of Gailileo Galilei and hosts an important university, founded in 1338, and the Scuola Normale Superiore, opened in 1813. As an Etruscan settlement and a Roman town, Pisa formed part of the Longobardo Kingdom, and then of the Carolingio Empire before becoming part of Italy after 1861. The medieval period coincided with the peak of Pisa’s economic and political power. Pisa was one of the four Italian coastal republics until it was annexed to the Ducato of Tuscany in 1406. Pisa is the starting point to discover the province, with its unspoilt and well-preserved landscape. Do not miss a visit to San Miniato (50 km), Volterra (65 km), San Gimignano (80 km) and Florence (105 km).
The boat service in Pisa will let you enjoy the architectural scenery of the Lungarni, or the natural beauty of the nearby San Rossore Natural Park, in which several important racecourses and dressage competitions take place. Pisa celebrates traditional events such as the fascinating “Luminara” (a candlelight festival), the historical "Regata" (a boat race on the River Arno) and the “Gioco del Ponte” (an ancient contest on the Ponte di Mezzo). The three of them take place every year in June. An alternative could be a festival of international sacred music called “Anima Mundi”, taking place between September and October in the Cathedral and Monumental Cemetery.
In Pisa you can find typical meat-based and fish-based Tuscan cuisine. You should try the characteristic chickpea soup together with the so-called sciocco (unsalted) bread and the famous local olive oil. Home-made pasta is another must.
In Italy, coffee is just as important as pasta. If you want to act like a local when ordering your coffee, there are some unwritten rules you should keep in mind. - Cappuccino, Caffelatte or any other kind of coffee based on milk should only be drunk in the mornings. - When you order an espresso, don't use the word espresso, which actually is just a technical phrase. Ask the barista for simply "un caffè". - Last but not least, when ordering "un caffè" you don't sit down. Stand at the bar and have your coffee while standing. Whether you feel like blending in or sitting down at a table, there are plenty of cafes to choose from in Pisa.
Before going to dinner, don’t miss the aperitivo bars (which are usually open from 18:30 to 21:30). The early-evening drink has become a must in Italy for both young and old people, and it’s also an easy way to make new acquaintances. The real place for nightlife is on the Versilian coast, just 10 km from the city, where the most famous discos are located (mostly in Viareggio and Forte dei Marmi). Pisa does ,however, boast some decent places to listen to live music and dance.
The area around the Tower is packed with tacky souvenir shops. Ignore those and walk to Corso Italia and Borgo Stretto, the two main shopping streets in Pisa, where you will find any kind of Italian fashion shops. The cheapest brands are in Corso Italia and the most elegant boutiques lie in the medieval Borgo Stretto. Two other streets, Via Mercanti and Via dei Rigattieri, boast many excellent shops and all around the city centre you will see dealers who sell old books and paintings. If you are, even vaguely, passionate about antique trade, don't miss the Antique and Handicraft Fair, which takes place every second weekend of the month in Via Santa Maria, Piazza Felice Cavallotti, Via dei Mille, Via Corsica, Piazza dei Cavalieri and Via Ulisse Dini (not in July and August, though). Another must-see is the Mercato delle Vettovaglie, a fruit and food market on the square of the same name, with a centenary history, opened from Monday to Friday.
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