San Francesco: Historical Quarter in Tramontana

The quarter of San Francesco is the second historical quarter in Tramontana.

Tramontana Tramontana

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

What should you see in San Francesco?

Following this itinerary...

A Walk in San Francesco A Walk in San Francesco should see:

  • Piazza Martiri della Libertà 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
  • 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!
  • Church of Saint Francis: 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 façade, 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.
  • 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.
Madonna dei Vetturini Madonna dei Vetturini

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

Lungarno Mediceo Lungarno Mediceo

On the Lungarno Mediceo you should see:

  • Piazza Cairoli, also known as Piazza della Berlina: this was where people were pilloried. It is very lively nowadays 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. There is an excellent and very romantic restaurant here: La Pergoletta.
Piazza della Berlina Piazza della Berlina
  • On the Lungarno Mediceo there are many noble buildings. You should not miss Palazzo Toscanelli, a white building with a 16th century façade 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. Nowadays, 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 Staël'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!
Palazzo Toscanelli and Palazzo Roncioni Palazzo Toscanelli and Palazzo Roncioni
  • <
  • 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
Tower Houses Tower Houses
  • 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!
Piazza Mazzini Piazza Mazzini
Piazza Mazzini Piazza Mazzini
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 Matteo Church of San Matteo
Entrance to San Matteo National Museum and the Medici Palace Entrance to San Matteo National Museum and the Medici Palace
  • Piazza San Silvestro: it houses a 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 nowadays 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!
Le Piaggie Le Piaggie
Le Piaggie Le Piaggie

Crossing Ponte della Vittoria, you enter the historical quarter of San Martino.