Il Campo dei Miracoli - The Field of Miracles
An important premise
Dedicated to the traveller to Pisa (and not the tourist)
The Field of Miracles is the most popular attraction in Pisa and one of the most famous places in the world. Most tourists coming to spend their holidays in Tuscany visit the square of the Leaning Tower, the Duomo, the Baptistry, the Monumental Cemetery and the museums and then they leave Pisa. This usually provokes a "love it or hate it" reaction, which doesn't do justice to one of the most beautiful cities in Tuscany.
Here is a brief presentation of the Field of Miracles: you can find more information about this part of the city very easily, both in guidebooks and on the internet. We will provide some links to interesting websites for those travellers whose reaction is "I love Pisa!", but we think that it is really important to underline that the Leaning Tower is only one of the beautiful treasures of Pisa.
Do not confine your visit to this square because you might miss the real spirit of this lively Medieval University town by thinking that everywhere you go you will find stalls selling souvenirs and touristy restaurants.
Pisa is not a "tourist trap", it is a real city and a beautiful one. Just walk away from the Field of Miracles after you have enjoyed the beautiful monuments and bought your postcards: you will discover a totally different and pleasant city.
Back to this Wonder of the World
We will skip most of the traditional information you will find in your guidebook and give you some suggestions for things to do in the square of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, one of the Wonders of the World.
Piazza del Duomo in Pisa, the Field of Miracles, is right at the edge of the old medieval town. You will have to look for it and you won't find it if you are expecting it to be in the middle of the city centre: that is the kingdom of the River Arno, of the pubs, bars and the heart of nightlife in Pisa.
The beautiful Duomo and the Leaning Tower are at the far end of the most common itinerary of a traveller coming to Pisa by train. Dulcis in fundo… roughly… and freely translating… "the dessert comes at the end"!!!
The square itself is not suffocated by the surrounding buildings. It stands apart and independent from all the other buildings surrounding it, in a beautiful contrast between the green grass and the white marble.
In winter it is often almost deserted. In spring it is really beautiful, and more and more crowded. But if you happen to be in Pisa at the beginning of spring, when the first mild days arrive, be sure to lunch on the green grass with the many students laying on the lawn and on the steps of the Duomo eating, singing, laughing or reading before their next lesson.
Do not miss a walk in the square at night. It is a totally different square, really impressive. It is quiet, lit by fantastic light purple lights.
So, what is special in this square?
Besides the beauty of the buildings which compose a harmonious whole, i.e. the Duomo, the Baptistery of San Giovanni, the Camposanto (the cemetery), and the most famous bell tower in the world, that is, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the history of the square is interesting in itself.
The square is situated right by the oldest early medieval city walls, built in 1155 and perfectly preserved. The walls and the Gate, called Porta Nuova, are really beautiful, even though they often go unnoticed because of their more popular "company".
It took decades to build these buildings. This seems pretty obvious given their magnificence. However, it is interesting to note that not even the change in artistic taste of the period managed to affect the overall quality of the complex (from Romanesque to Gothic), and this could be taken as a result of what Luca Bertini, an expert of the history of the city, describes as "the Pisan medieval culture" which "closely followed a plan which extended beyond the lifetime of individual men to be handed down from father to son". No wonder there are so many artists with the same "surname" as the street names reveal to art heathen!
The Leaning Tower was meant to be a "busy" place from the very beginning. It is a very special bell tower: it has logge where people can comfortably stand and walk and enjoy the view of the happenings below. This is probably not by chance, but it was rather meant to host personalities during ceremonies and city festivals.
August 15th is a special day in Italy, it is called Ferragosto, and is one of the most popular holidays in the country. It is a religious holiday dedicated to the Holy Virgin. Already in the Middle Ages, it was an important holiday in the Pisan Calendar.
Pisa nowadays is a very multiethnic city with many immigrants and foreign students and tourists.
This is not a novelty for the city, though. On August 15th, the Field of Miracles would become a huge market square where people from all over the known world would gather in Pisa during the preceeding weeks and were guaranteed freedom of trade in the square of the Duomo: Arabs, men from the North, Flanders, Germans, Hispanic traders and many more were all welcome in the city.
Important guests could admire this busy market as well as the celebrations from up high and enjoy the beautiful view.
Where should one start?
The Cathedral or Duomo is a good start. It is the oldest building of the complex and it was dedicated to the Assumption of the Holy Virgin Mary 800 years before this was declared a dogma of the Catholic faith.
It was founded in 1063 on the remains of the old Etruscan and Roman temples.
We'll skip the technical artistic details and the history of the building which you can most certainly find extensively described in your guidebooks.
We will rather point out that, if you expect to see only one leaning building in the square, you will be surprised to see that the Cathedral and the Baptistery are not standing straight either. And they are not the only buildings in town. There are several leaning building and bell towers in Pisa because of the unsteady ground rich in water.
You should not miss the doors by Bonanno Pisano: they are amazing. You will notice that some of the figures are particularly polished because people have been touching them for centuries in search of good luck, health and fertility.
There is an admission fee to the church, but it is well worth it. Inside, the traveller to Pisa should never miss the pulpit sculpted by Giovanni Pisano which is almost identical to the pulpit in the Cathedral in Siena.
Of course, the Duomo is full of works of art, but I would like to dedicate a few words to a legend which is particularly dear to the Pisan people. There is a bronze chandelier hanging at the centre of the nave which is known as Galileo's chandelier. Legend says that Galileo Galilei's theories relative to the pendulum came to him while he was attending mass and happened to be distracted by the oscillating chandelier. Unfortunately, this is only a legend, because the chandelier was hung in the Duomo only 4 years after his discovery.
The Cathedral also hosts the remains of San Ranieri, the Patron Saint of Pisa, whose memory is celebrated with an amazing festival known as the Luminara on June 16th and then with the Historical Regatta on June 17th, San Ranieri's Day.
Let's get the Leaning Tower over with!
After the Cathedral, no traveller can resist the temptation to climb the Leaning Tower… if he can afford it and often if he has booked in advance.
The original author of this architectural masterpiece (if we forget about the "leaning stuff" for a moment…) is not known, or rather, nobody can assert with absolute certainty that either Bonnanno Pisano or Diotisalvi is the initiator of the works.
A few years ago, however, while carrying out some excavations in order to stabilize the Tower, a sarcophagus was found which bore these words "...pisanus civis Bonanno nominee...". This led archaeologists to think that Bonanno was buried there, under his masterpiece.
The tower was built between 1173 and the end of the 14th century. It took so long to build because it started to lean as soon as the third floor was completed and the works were blocked. A century later the works started again. In fact, if you look closely at the tower, it is not a straight tower leaning, it is slightly bent, in the attempt to straighten it up and prevent its fall.
In the past few years solidification works have been carried out and the Leaning Tower is now "less leaning" than it used to be 5 years ago. Scholars say that it has been brought back to its inclination of 200 years ago.
After several years during which it was not possible to climb to the top of the tower, the Leaning Tower has been reopened to people willing to climb up its 293 steps. It is not possible to go up to the summit without a guide. Only guided tours are possible. Tickets to the Leaning Tower can be booked online or in the Field of Miracles itself. In off peak season, it is possible to buy a ticket on the spot. In high season it is safer to book in advance.
Are you a student? Don't walk around the Baptistery!!!
The Baptistery is the most fearsome enemy of the students of the University of Pisa: if you are an undergraduate and you walk around the Baptistery, you will never get your degree! Well… at least according to urban legend…
The Baptistery was started by Diotisalvi in 1152 and it was finished in the 14th century. The interior has a diameter of 35,5 metres and features astounding acoustics. You can whisper on one side of the corridor, and a person on the opposite side can hear you perfectly.
Do not miss the beautiful pulpit by Nicola Pisano. It is hexagonal, and some scholars believe that this shape was influenced by the mysterious architectural style chosen by Frederick II for his castles in Apulia, which might have been the homeland of the artist.
The Camposanto Vecchio
What is usually referred to as the Camposanto Monumentale (Monumental Cemetery) was actually known as (Pisan people still refer to it in this way) Camposanto Vecchio (Old Cemetery).
Beside the more elaborate buildings of the church, it seems a simpler monument. Actually, it was planned to be simpler on the outside, but it was magnificent in the inside.
Unfortunately, it was severely damaged by fire during World War II (1944), but it is still well worth a visit.
What else should you do in Campo dei Miracoli?
- you should take a look at Porta del Leone (Lion Gate), behind the Baptistery. This stands on the place where the Roman gate to the city once stood. If you stand under the Lion, you can really enjoy a magnificent and "alternative" view of the square
- behind the Lion Gate, is the Jewish Cemetery, which many travellers forget to visit
- you can visit the two museums, the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo and the Museo delle Sinopie
- if you are into this type of thing, you can explore the many stalls selling souvenirs and cheesy gadgets. My personal favourites are the tower-shaped table lamps that light up from the inside. Don't forget to buy your postcards! There is no better place to write them than sitting on the grass or on the steps of the Cathedral in the Field of Miracles. Or you can get into one of the horse-drawn carriages and take a tour of the city centre
- Just a few steps away from the Campo dei Miracoli is the impressive Palazzo Arcivescovado, home to the Archbishop of Pisa. That makes for a nice stop too
- if you like little markets and ethnic crafts, then you should exit the square from Porta Nuova and you will find a real ethnic market to your right. The entrance to the Jewish Cemetery is there too.
What should I absolutely not do in Campo dei Miracoli?
Leave Pisa immediately after having visited the monuments in the square. You would end up with a false idea of the city.
Opera Primaziale Pisana
Leaning Tower of Pisa
Ticket: 15 euros; if you book online 17 euros
Please note: in order to book your ticket online you will have to provide your ID card or Passport number.
If you wish to attend mass in the duomo, mass is celebrated twice a day at 8 a.m. and at 9.30 a.m. and on Sundays at 11 a.m. as well.
Tickets for more than one monument
Baptistery or Monumental Cemetery or Opera Museum or Sinopie Museum: €5
Cathedral or Baptistery or Monumental Cemetery or Opera Museum or Sinopie Museum: €6
Baptistery or Monumental Cemetery or Opera Museum or Sinopie Museum: €8.50
This is one of the oldest Jewish Cemeteries in the world. It has been used since 1674.
Opening days: Sunday morning and Wednesday afternoon.
Guided tours in French, English and Hebrew are possible but reservations are necessary.
The official website of the Jewish Community of Pisa
Via Palestro, 24
56127 - Pisa
Tel e Fax: 050/542580
For more ideas and suggestions on how to discover Pisa, visit our page on the itineraries in Pisa.