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Pisa Guide Italy

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History and culture

Pisa’s origins remain uncertain even to this day; some theories say the city is of Greek origin, however the city was most probably founded by the Ligurians or Etruscans. During the Roman Empire Pisa became a privileged center due to the excellent disembarkation possibilities offered by its port, to such an extent that the port was expanded and restructured during Octavian's reign. Following the end of the Roman Empire, Pisa remained a port city of great importance for the Goths, Longobards and the Carolingi.

During the medieval period, between the 11th and 12th centuries, Pisa reached maximum prosperity; the Marine Republic became one of the most important naval powers of the Mediterranean and extended its power over the entire coasts of Tuscany, Sardinia and Corsica. Its fleet was involved in continuous battles with the Saracens and Italian rival powers: Genoa, Venice and Amalfi. The success of the First Crusade enabled Pisa to establish commercial bases in Middle Eastern ports, ensuring the importation of the most precious materials. The amazing buildings in Piazza dei Miracoli were built around this period of great economic, political and cultural power and have made Pisa famous around the world.

The end of the 12th century signaled the beginning of the city’s decline. Everyone in Pisa, even to this day, are well aware of the Battle of Meloria in 1284 in which Pisa was bombarded by the Genoan fleet. In the years that followed, Pisa fell into the shadow of neighboring powers, such as Florence and Siena, until it was finally conquered by Florence in 1406. Under the dei Medici’s the city experienced a period of recovery thanks to its port, offering Florence a convenient gateway to the sea. The 1500’s also saw the construction of the famous university, which one century later would teach Galileo Galilei.

What actually marked the end for Pisa as a naval power was the unrelenting filling in of the port, due to the accumulation of detritus transported from the Arno. The city, surrounded by unhealthy swampland, lost its importance and its population until the 19th century, when the Grand Dukes of Lorena began the indispensable reclamation works. In 1810, Napoleon founded the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa, which to this day continues to be renowned as a school of excellence in Italy and abroad. In the 20th century Pisa once again began to flourish, thanks to the development of its university, trade, industry and, in more recent times, its fame among tourists worldwide.


Photos courtesy of APT Pisa

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