History of Pisa
Pisa is, of course, famous first and foremost for its "leaning tower", but the entire architectural complex on the Campo dei Miracoli, of which the tower is a part, is extremely interesting and attractive. Pisa is situated on the Arno, six miles from the sea coast of Tuscany, Italy. The walks along the banks of Arno here are as beautiful as in Florence, if not more so, and the town is packed with architectural gems.
The origins of Pisa and Etruscan Pisa
Neolithic remains indicate that the mouth of the Arno was settled in very early times and most likely Ligurian colonists of Celtic origin settled here. We know that Pisa was a port of call for the Greeks and the legend of Pelops, who left the banks of the Alpheo, a river in the Peloponnese, for those of the Arno to found a new Pisa is possibly supported by Virgil in the 10th book of the Aeneid.
In the Etruscan period between the 6th and 3rd centuries B.C., Pisa, situated near the extreme northern border of Etruria, was influenced by Volterra but never became more than a modest village of fishermen and boat builders, probably limited by the instability of the coastline and the periodic floods of the Arno.
As Etruria was romanised, Pisa grew in importance and was an ally of Rome in the long wars against the Ligurians and the Carthaginians. The port (Portus Pisanus), situated between the mouth of the river (at that time near where San Piero a Grado stands today) and that portion of the coast now occupied by Livorno, constituted an ideal naval base for the Roman fleet in its expeditions against the Ligurians and the Gauls, and in the operations aimed at subjugating Corsica, Sardinia and various coastal zones of Spain. Pisa, as an ally of Rome, then became a colonia, a municipium and in the time of Octavianus Augustus (1st cent. B.C.) was known as Colonia Julia Pisana Obsequens. In the meanwhile the growth in population, the development of shipbuilding and trade - fostered by the establishment of the Via Aurelia and the Via Aemilia Scaurii as well as by the harbour - resulted in an expansion of the inhabited area which was soon surrounded by walls.
The imperial period was noted for the magnificence of its public and private buildings. Although now traces of Roman life in Pisa are scarce (Baths of Hadrian, improperly called the 'Baths of Nero', capitals from the age of Severus, 3rd century A.D.), there were probably a forum and a palatium as well as an amphitheatre, public baths, a naval base and numerous temple structures, replaced by churches in Christian times. In 1991, excavations carried out near the Arena Garibaldi revealed the presence of an Etruscan necropolis on which a domus augustea was laid out in Roman times.
Mediaeval Pisa and the rise of the Maritime Republic
Legend has it that the first Christian influences were introduced into the area of Pisa by Saint Peter himself, who landed 'ad Gradus' in 47 A.D. and a basilica was subsequently built there. With the fall of the Roman Empire, Pisa passed first under the Lombards and then under the Franks. In the early Middle Ages, the city's maritime ambitions burgeoned and Pisa soon came into conflict with the Saracens, who were aiming at full supremacy of the Mediterranean. With bases in Corsica and Sardinia, they frequently threatened the lands controlled by the Church itself. The story of Kinzica de' Sismondi is set in this period. This young Pisan heroine is said to have saved the city from a Saracen incursion while most of the Pisan army and fleet were out driving the moslem infidels from Reggio Calabria (1005).
Between 1016 and 1046, the Pisans conquered Sardinia and finally also Corsica (1052), thus laying the foundations for effective control of the Tyrrhenian Sea. After these successes, the city, with Papal consent, sent the fleet to Sicily to support the struggle of the Norman Roger I and Robert against the Saracens. After breaking the chains of the harbour of Palermo, the ships hoisted their standard - the Pisan Cross in a field of red (the city's standard since the exploit of Sardinia) - and defeated the enemy (1062), returning home with such rich booty that they were able to begin the construction of the Cathedral.
In the meantime, rivalry with Genoa let to a naval conflict, in which the Pisans were victorious, opposite the mouth of the Arno (6 September 1060), while in a larger Mediterranean theatre the Pisan fleet successfully took part in the first Crusade. These positive results helped the Maritime Republic consolidate its position in the Near Eastern ports of call and in particular in Constantinople. The subsequent conquest of the Balearic Isles, completed in 1115, and the victory over Amalfi (1136), coincided with the peak of the city's maritime and military power.
But the 13 C was to be disastrous for Pisa, whose standing in the Western Mediterranean had in the meanwhile equalled that of Venice in the Adriatic and the Eastern Mediterranean. The continuous rivalry on the seas with Genoa and fierce conflicts with the Guelph cities of Tuscany (headed by Florence and Lucca) led to an inexorable downfall. As a result of its unconditioned support of Imperial policies, but above all because of the seizing of a group of ecclesiastic dignitaries who were on their way to Rome to take part in a council which could have ended in the removal of Frederick II of Swabia (1241), Pisa was excommunicated by the Pope, and had to wage a bitter struggle on two fronts - against Genoa (which also declared Guelph sympathies) and against the Tuscan cities which had by then become members of the Guelph League.
The fall of the Maritime Republic of Pisa and the rise of Medici suzerainty
The signoria of Piero Gambacorti seemed to inaugurate a period of relative peace and prosperity but his treacherous assassination (21 October 1392) by hired killers instigated by the Visconti, delivered Pisa into the hands of the lords of Milan. In 1405, they traded Pisa off to the Florentines for money. The indignation and fierce resistance of the Pisans was weakened by a series of negative events and in the end the city had to surrender after a siege. This episode (9 October 1406) marked the irreversible fall of the glorious Maritime Republic. The subsequent advent of the French king Charles VIII aroused new hopes of independence in the city but the Florentines hastened to gather under the walls of their once invincible rival and again besieged it together with their allies. The indomitable resistance of the Pisans was so strong the Florentines even though of deviating the course of the Arno and called in Leonardo da Vinci for this purpose, but the idea remained on paper, for Pisa, exhausted by famine, had to accept the Florentine signoria (20 October 1509). The Medici government of Cosimo I resulted in a renaissance in the city: university activity was rationalised and augmented, various public offices were organised, and, most important, the Order of the Knights of St. Stephen was instituted (1561), bringing new lymph to the Pisan maritime traditions, and taking part in the epic naval encounter of Lepanto (7 October 1571). In that circumstance the Christian fleet, the expression of a coalition of European powers (the papacy and Spain, Venice and the House of Savoy and still others), under the leadership of Don Juan of Austria, assisted by Gian Andrea Doria, Marcantonio Colonna, Ettore Spinola and Sebastiano Veniero, wiped out the maritime power of the Ottoman Turks captained by Mehemet Ali.
Subsequent Medici rulers achieved important public works, such as the Aqueduct of Asciano (1601) and the Canal of the Navicelli - between Pisa and Livorno (1603). In the early 1630s, a fierce plague raged through the city. With the advent of the Lorraine government which obtained the sovereignty of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany in 1738, as established by the treaty of Vienna, the rationalisation of the cultural institutions began (the Scuola Normale was once more opened, 1847).
The re-unification of Italy also involved the citizens of Pisa: on the unforgettable day of Curtatone and Montanara (28 May 1848), the volunteers and the university students, who had cut off the tips of their university caps in order to aim their guns better, wrote one of the most glowing pages of the first war of independence. The year 1860 marked the plebiscite adhesion to the Kingdom of Italy: two years later Pisa bestowed a warm welcome on Garibaldi who had been wounded on the Aspromonte. The most recent history of the city includes the devastating destruction of World War II and in 1966 the disastrous flood of the Arno resulted in the collapse of the Ponte Solferino and the partial destruction of the Lungarno Pacinotti.