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history of Pisa has left little outward mark on the
beautiful countryside of Tuscany.
The History of Pisa
The history of Pisa began 180 years before Christ on
the banks of the Arno River, approximately ten miles
inland from the Tyrrhenian Sea. Known as Pisae, a Roman
colony, the settlement displayed some Ligurian and
|Through 800 AD, the
Pisans were repeatedly sacked by various enemies including
the Vikings, Byzantines,
and Saracens. Through trade agreements, land deals, and
the occasional successful rebellion the
Pisans were able to maintain control of the territory
and develop lucrative trading activities with Spain to
the west and the prosperous merchants of northern Africa
to the south.
In 1075 the elder statesmen of Pisa developed a code
of laws known as the Conseutudini di mare. These
merchant rules created a legal environment that enabled the
mercantile empire of Pisa to grow and prosper.
In 1099, at the dawn of
the 12th century, the Pisans joined the Vatican in the
1st Crusades. This was a period of thriving economic
growth and expansion through colonization. The 12th
century saw Pisa develop several colonies; among them
were Antioch, Tripoli, and Tunis. In 1111 the city
elders forged an agreement with Byzantium enabling
transit for trade in the Holy Land.
intricate frieze on the baptistery (Campo dei
building a fine example of melding of the arabesque
styles and classic medieval Italian architecture that
was prevalent in the latter half of the 12th century.
This exemplifies the fine architecture that one finds in
Pisa. The student of history will find similar
architecture all over Italy in places such as St.
Mark's Square in Venice and at the Casamari
Abbey in the Lazio region.
Field of Miracles or Campo dei Miracoli
began to take shape in 1118. The famous Leaning Tower of
Pisa had not yet been constructed, but in this year the
cathedral (Duomo in Italian) was consecrated by Pope
Gelasius II. It was not until 35 years later, in 1153,
that work would begin on the Pisan Baptistery. In 1172,
after another 20 years, a widow of a wealthy Pisan
merchant made a substantial donation of 'sixty coins'
to the church with instructions to build the marvelous
campanile (bell tower).
History shows that
between 1228 and 1254
there were ongoing skirmishes between Pisa and Florence.
The Pisans were able to maintain the upper hand until
the armies of Florence finally overcame them in an
attack in 1254. Pisa managed to remain sovereign
by giving up land to Florence and forging restrictive
In 1284 the Battle of Meloria,
fought against Genoa, proved to be one of the most
devastating losses in the history of Pisa.
A large number of ships were lost along with more than
11,000 men that were killed in battle or imprisoned in
Genoa. Less than ten years later, in 1293, the Guelph
forces invaded a weakened Pisa and took control of the
harbor. The Guelphs forced harsh terms on Pisa that
included the loss of Pisan territories on the Mediterranean
islands of Sardinia and Corsica.
Though not yet completed,
the first commission to investigate the tilt of the
leaning tower was formed in 1298 to tour and inspect the
tower. At the time the
tower was not leaning as much as it is today; the angle
was less than 1.5 degrees from the perpendicular. The
tower was officially completed in 1370 measuring 1.6
degrees from vertical.
Through the 1400s and
into the 1500s Florence continued its assaults on Pisa
until the Pisans were forced to surrender in 1509
turning over control of the government to the Council
of the Ten, controlled by Niccolo Machiavelli.
Students of history
already know that Galileo Galilei, born in
Vincenzo in 1564, moved to Pisa to begin teaching
mathematics at the University of Pisa in 1589. In the
period between 1589 and 1591 Galileo conducted his
legendary experiments on gravitational forces by
dropping objects from the leaning tower. What some
students of history may not know is that in the inquisition
of 1633 Galileo was persecuted for heresy because of his
published support of the Copernican theory of the solar
system written in The Dialogue Concerning the Two
Chief World Systems (1632).
Through the 18th and 19th
century the tower's tilt continued to worsen and several
councils and commissions were convened to investigate
and remedy the problem with, what had become, the city's
most valuable building.
19th and 20th centuries the Leaning Tower proved to be a
powerful attraction fueling the city's tourism based
economy. The tower's foundation has been re-engineered
and it is currently thought to be stabilized.
Today Pisa has emerged
from history with a population of
approximately 100,000, a thriving tourism economy, and
governing authority as the provincial capital of
for information on this tour:
Shrady, N. (2003) Tilt.
Simon & Shuster. NY, NY, USA.
Machiavelli, F., Martin,
S., Townsend, H., Tyrrell, N (1996). Eyewitness
Travel Guides: Italy. DK Publishing. NY, NY, USA.
Sarti, R. (2004). Italy
- A Reference Guide from the Renaissance to the Present.
Facts on File Inc.. NY, NY, USA.
- Pisa Chronology - A
Timeline of Events >>