So you think you’ve seen Pisa? Sure, you’ve been overwhelmed by the beauty of piazza dei Miracoli, home to the city’s main religious centre. You’ve wandered around the cathedral, visited the monumental cemetery and taken those somewhat inevitable pictures holding up the Leaning Tower. But what if we told you this little corner of Pisa is just that, a little corner? There’s a whole city waiting for you, full of history and vitality that extends far beyond its most famous landmarks. Here are 5 ideas to discover the lesser-known side of Pisa.
Did you know that just a few steps from the train station, there’s a large mural by Keith Haring? Tuttomondo is one of the few works by the American artist in Italy. Painted in 1989 on the outside wall of the Church of Sant'Antonio Abate with the help of some students, it is an absolute explosion of vitality and colour. The 30 figures dancing on the wall represent peace and harmony in the world and it can brighten up your day just by looking at them.
A short walk from Ponte di Mezzo, Palazzo Blu is a must, a venue famous for holding wonderful exhibitions. Past shows in the space have included retrospectives on Escher, Andy Warhol and Toulouse-Lautrec and reportages about historical events like the 1966 flood and the turbulent year of 1968.
If you’re looking to immerse yourself in the life of the city, take a walk in piazza delle Vettovaglie, in the heart of the historic centre, where a noisy but colourful fruit and vegetable market is held every day. This is also the right place to taste some of Pisa’s specialities, like Torta co’ bischeri, a tart made with rice, cocoa, raisins and candied fruit, risotto with San Miniato white truffles and Mucco Pisano, a type of beef that is only bred around Pisa, cooked, stewed and seasoned with black pepper.
There must be something special in the air at Pisa, or more likely in the ground, as the Leaning Tower is not the only one that fails to be straight. If you love to explore curiosities, there are two other tilting towers if you want to check them out. The first one belongs to the Church of San Nicola, unique not only for its octagonal shape, but also because it’s started to lean over the centuries. The Church of San Michele degli Scalzi, located in the Piagge neighbourhood, has a greater surprise in store though: here, the bell hangs clearly towards the Arno river.
Finally, a short distance from the city lies a natural paradise, the Estate of San Rossore inside the Migliarino, San Rossore and Massaciuccoli Park, which includes the impressive stables of the Savoy family and extends as far as the sea, stretching across vast meadows, oak forests, landscapes, lakes, pine trees, reeds and dunes, offering a variety of habitats worth exploring on horseback or by carriage, where you can experience the thrill of spotting a deer or a wild boar.