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Pisa, Pisa

Tuscany, Italy, Europe: The Leaning Tower of Pisa, and Cathedral Santa Maria Assunta
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Today most people associate the town with the Leaning Tower, but Pisa is a proud provincial capital with a lot more to offer. From the 11th to the 13th centuries, this was one of the most important sea powers in the Mediterranean (the coast was a lot closer in those days), vying with Genoa and Venice for control of the key trade routes. Open to cultural influences from Spain, North Africa, and the Levant and economically buoyant, the city developed its own unique architectural and sculptural idiom, Pisan Romanic. The complex of religious buildings known as the Campo dei Miracoli, or Field of Miracles, is the most glorious expression of this style, with its delicate tracery of small arches and pinnacles. The Leaning Tower ( is just one of the remarkable edifices in this holy architecture park, which also takes in the duomo with its polychrome marble facade, the Baptistery with its magnificent Nicola Pisano pulpit, and the beautiful Camposanto (cemetery), its frescoed galleries much damaged by World War II bombing. Entrance to the tower is via accompanied (not guided) tours, which need to be booked ahead, either online at or at the ticket office on the north side of the Campo; except at the busiest times of year, you can generally be sure of getting a slot within 90 minutes of turning up—and waiting time can be put to good use exploring the other buildings in the Campo. Every year on the eve of St. Ranieri's feast day on June 16, the Luminaria illuminates the city with candlelight, including the duomo and every level of the Leaning Tower. In the late 1990s, remains of a port and 20 2,000-year-old ships were unearthed 500 yards from Campo dei Miracoli; a planned Museum of Maritime Archaeology will display them by 2009.

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