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Pisa - San Francesco Quarter

Gloria - Casina di Rosa

The quarter of San Francesco is the second historical quarter in Tramontana. There are several amazing churches to see in this quarter, and here is the list of things you should definitely not miss.

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Things to See in Quartiere San Francesco

Map of Pisa showing walking route - San Francesco Quarter,  Touring Club Italiano, Milano

Map of Pisa showing walking route - San Francesco Quarter, © Touring Club Italiano, Milano

Piazza Martiri della Libert and the Church of Santa Caterina of Alessandria: This amazing large square is one of the green spots in Pisa. There are many big trees, which make it one of the nicest places in town especially when it is very hot. The square is located between the Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna, a very prestigious University college and the beautiful Church of Santa Caterina. The monument in the square is dedicated to Pietro Leopoldo di Lorena. The Church is one of the oldest in town. It was built in 1250 with the convent close-by, which in now a seminary with a library where many precious and very ancient volumes are preserved. In the church there are many works of art that really deserve a visit.

Church of San Zeno: Walking in Via San Zeno, you will reach one of the most interesting sights in Pisa: the Church of San Zeno. This church, now a museum, is the oldest in Pisa. It was built before the year 1000, probably on an older paleochristian church. It is very charming and mysterious, especially considering that it has witnessed the historical events in Pisa over the past 20 centuries!

San Francesco: Continue along Via Buonarroti and Via Vicenza and on the corner with Via San Francesco, you will see the magnificent church of the same name. The facade, which is in Piazza San Francesco, is totally different from the rest of the church: it was added in the 17th century, whereas the church was built in the 13th century and it has many resemblances to San Domenico in Siena. The church is huge: one nave of 70mt!!! The floor and the walls are full of very rich tombs and sarcophagi. Next to the church there is a convent with a very beautiful 14th century cloistered court: Francesco da Buti, first commentator of Dante's Divina Commedia is buried here.

A little loop to enjoy one of the liveliest areas of Pisa! From Piazza Alessandro d'Ancona, take Via Sant'Andrea. At the end you will see the little church of Sant'Andrea, now a theatre. The legend says that Pier delle Vigne is buried here, but nobody knows for sure. Take Via Palestro and you will walk by the very active Synagogue and the excellent theatre, Teatro Verdi. Every year it hosts a number of great shows: prose, opera and ballet. Via Verdi and you will be in Piazza San Paolo all'Orto. This is the square of the largest cinema in Pisa. Note!!! Several great restaurants are in the area: two of them are Osteria di Culegna (Via Renato Fucini), quite different, and very simple but lovely atmosphere, and Le Bandierine (Via dei Mercanti), spaghetteria, and the spaghetti are homemade.

Borgo Stretto: Go back to Via San Francesco and walk towards Borgo Stretto and from there to Piazza Garibaldi and the Lungarno. You will pass, on your right, the pasticceria Salza, the birth house of Galileo and the amazing church of San Michele. You will walk under the beautiful wooden alto-relievo of the Madonna dei Vetturini by Nicola Pisano, which was once in the little Chiesa della Spina.

Lungarno Mediceo: This part of the Lungarno has a long history and it was one of the most popular areas in the 18th and 19th century. If you are looking for ghosts, this is your place!!!

Piazza Cairoli, also known as Piazza della Berlina: This was where people were pilloried. It is very lively now because it houses a very popular bar: Amaltea. It is very crowded when it's warm outside. There is a column in the middle with an allegorical figure, "Abundance", made by Pierino da Vinci, Leonardo's grandson. The church of San Pietro in Vinculis, is also very old and interesting. It has a very short bell tower that was most likely cut by the Florentines.

Lungarno Mediceo: On the Lungarno Mediceo there are many noble buildings. You should not miss Palazzo Toscanelli, a white building with a 16th century facade ascribed to Michelangelo himself. Looking for a ghost? Well, Lord Byron lived here in 1821-22. The legend says that he would climb the stairs riding his horse and that he spent hours writing in the dark underground rooms. Now it is home to the National Archive. Nor should you miss Palazzo Roncioni: it was one of the most powerful Pisan families' home. Looking for more ghosts? Isabella Roncioni, loved by Foscolo, lived here. Their sad love story inspired the character of Jacopo Ortis. Not happy yet? Then you should also look for Vittorio Alfieri's (he was a guest in this palace and he played his famous Saul here in 1795) or Madame De Stal's ghosts (she was a guest here in 1815-16). The Roncioni family had their own dock: you can still use it to go on the riverboat tour!

On the Lungarno Mediceo there are many noble buildings

On the Lungarno Mediceo there are many noble buildings

There are also many Tower Houses, the typical medieval buildings, narrow and tall: over 10,000 of them were built in the 12th and 13th century, to avoid using too much ground area and to be more easily protected. They are to be found everywhere in the centre. The most famous one is in Via Santa Maria at the corner of Via Volta, but there are also many near Piazza delle Vettovaglie. They demonstrate the glorious past of medieval Pisa as the undisputed capital of the Western World.

Palazzo Medici: In Piazza Mazzini, there is the amazing Palazzo Medici, the Pisan home of the Medici family before they had the Royal Palace built. They chose to leave this building for the new Royal Palace because it was haunted!

Palazzo Medici

Palazzo Medici

Museo Nazionale di San Matteo: This is a must see if you come to Pisa. Besides being an amazing structure it houses one of the best collections of sacred art in Italy. Here you can admire one of the few paintings of the Holy Virgin still pregnant.

Church of San Silvestro: Piazza San Silvestro houses a small very old church with pine trees. The Church of San Silvestro was built in the 11th century and the big building beside it, which used to be a convent, is now a University dormitory and it housed the first Scuola Normale Superiore in 1813.

Le Piagge: The green heart of Pisa. It is a nice park along the river, where many people go to exercise and to walk their dogs, or just to hang out in the shade. In May, it hosts the very nice flower festival immediately followed by the Fair of Sant'Ubaldo. The church of San Michele degli Scalzi is also nice, and of course, the bell tower is. leaning!

Crossing Ponte della Vittoria, we are back in Mezzogiorno, and in particular in the historical quarter of San Martino. This Lungarno is called Lungarno Galilei.

>> Continue to San Martino Quarter


Gloria lives in Pisa and runs two vacation rentals: Casina di Rosa, a house in a village in the Tuscan countryside south of Siena, and Behind the Tower, an apartment in Pisa.

© Behind the Tower, 2005

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