Piazza Dei Miracoli (Miracles), houses, from left to right, The Baptistry, The Cathedral, and the Bell Tower, better known as the leaning tower..

Pisa was an important city during the Etruscan period, from 600-200 B.C., and also was a significant port colony during the Roman Empire.  Starting in the 11th century, as part of the marchesato of Tuscany, its powerful fleet spread influence throughout the region.  It played a role in the first of the Crusades, and founded numerous merchant colonies in the East.  For three centuries it prospered and it was during this period that architecture and art flourished.  In the 13th and 14th centuries, it fought with Lucca and Firenze over land, and battled on the seas with Genoa.  In 1509, the Medici, a dominant trade and banking family, took possession of the city.  

Today, Pisa is best known as home to the University of Pisa, a school of 40,000 students.  One branch of the university is the very prestigious  Scuola Normale Superiore, or Pisa Normal University.  This exclusive college admits 4,000 of the brightest students in Europe.  Regardless of their major, the students start with the original classics in their original language and  build from that foundation.  It is much like the "Great Books" program, taught in a handful of colleges in the United States.  With the exception of the Piazza Dei Miracoli and its immediate surroundings, including Pisa Normal University, the rest of Pisa is mostly a modern city, stimulated by the presence of a great university.

The Bell Tower.  The upper floors were actually built more upright.

The Baptistry.

The buildings of the Piazza Dei Miracoli were built in the 12th and 13th centuries, although some of them had additions added in subsequent periods.  

The Bell Tower was most problematic.  Bonanno designed and started work on the tower in the 12th century, but there were problems with settling and soon it started leaning.  In 1185, with three stories completed, work was stopped for nearly 100 years.  In 1275, Giovanni di Simone was commissioned to complete the building, and in nine years he added another three stories.  In the 14th century, Tommaso Pisano completed the building, with its current belfry.  Between 1990 and 2001, a major structural project exposed the foundation and rebuilt it to prevent it from slowly leaning further.  Other strengthening work was performed to the core of the building.   Now, tourists are actually permitted to go into the building as high as the fourth story.


Pisa Normal University.  Distinguished faculty have included Enrico Fermi, Carlo Rubbia, Galileo Galilei, and Leonardo Fibonacci.


Of course, tourists must take the obligatory photo, showing them holding up the leaning tower.

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