The Ancient Ships of Pisa
(A. A. Milne)
In 1998, an inspection was carried out before work was to begin on the foundations of a new FS National Railways control centre in the vicinity of the Pisa-San Rossore train station, not far from Behind the Tower. The builders made an amazing discovery only 500 metres from the Piazza dei Miracoli: they found the remains of the urban harbour of Pisae, the ancient Etruscan and Roman harbour and in it, were found several ancient ships, perfectly preserved.
This was immediately acknowledged as a discovery of great historical import for several reasons, not least of which, for the number of archaeological finds present at the site.
There are at least 16 ancient ships, 9 of which are presently being recovered. This is an amazing discovery, because there are no other examples of ancient ships (1st century B.C - 4th century A.C.) so well preserved. Perhaps even more significantly, their cargo was found, including the most perishable goods such as ropes, rigging, fishing equipment, equipment for negotiating the canals, anchors made from stone, wood and iron, baskets and fishing pots.
These items do not usually survive centuries of burial, but the conditions of the ground in this location, in the absence of oxygen, managed to preserve even the most fragile objects. These finds are fundamental in order to improve our knowledge of the life and activities in Pisa in the Etruscan and Roman times.
In a presentation of the excavation, the Superintendent of Archaeology for Tuscany made clear that the great interest of this archaeological site does not lie solely in the ancient ships of Pisa. Despite having an inestimable value, the ships are only one component of a larger research work aimed at uncovering the mysteries of life in ancient Pisa, which was lively and important well before the construction of the Leaning Tower.
Dr. Bottini underlined that the work will concern rather "the excavation of the City Port of Pisa, with all that that implies for the scientific objectives and consequent investigational methods".
The Museum of the Ancient Ships of Pisa will be ready in 2009 and it will be one of the most important in the world. At the moment, there is an interesting "Exibition in Progress" hosted in the Arsenali Medicei (Medici Shipyards - built by the powerful Florentine family), on the Lungarno Simonelli.
The Arsenals are a very important monument themselves, dating back to the 16th century and well worth a visit. They have been defined as an example of industrial architecture ante litteram, and were the heart of boat-building. The brick building lies at the edge of the historic centre on the side of the river opposite the beautiful old church of San Paolo a Ripa d'Arno, where, according to legend, the poet Pier delle Vigne committed suicide. It is a magical place in itself, and the Museum will add to the immense historical value of this area.
Museum of the Ancient Ships of Pisa
Arsenali Medicei - Lungarno Simonelli
Tel. 0039 050 21441
At the moment the museum is closed. It should be reopened in 2009. However, it is possible to visit the archaeological site of the ancient ships.
The Ancient Ships of Pisa and the Restoration Centre for the Wet Wood
Via Ranuccio Bianchi Bandinelli (former Via Andrea Pisano)
Friday, Saturday and Sunday
No reservation needed, with guided tours starting approximately every 90 minutes:
- A.M.: 10.00 and 11.30
- P.M.: 14.30 and 16.00
Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday
- Only with reservation
It is not possible to visit the shipyard without a guide.
For further information, please call +39 055 5121919 / +39 05503215446 between 9.00am and 1.00pm or between 2.00pm and 5.00pm.
Official site of the COIDRA, the agency for Archaeology and Cultural Heritage's Valorization that arranges visits to the site. The following description is quoted from their website:
"The Ancient Ships of Pisa were discovered and unearthed in December 1998. Presently the site is distinguished also thanks to a laboratory, unique of its kind on the European territory, for the processing and restoration of the wet wood.
The archaeological site of the Ancient Ships of Pisa has become a leading site within its scientific area, and represents a converging point for not only archaeological excavations, which also houses a series of laboratories (next to the laboratory for the wet wood, there are also laboratories for ceramics, cartography, chemistry and geology), in order to ensure the material processing directly in sito.