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History & Culture

History & Culture
of the city of Pisa
Traditions, famous people, curiosities

History of Pisa


Pisa was born as an Etruscan port, around the middle of the VI century. First human settlements date back to the IX century. There are many hypothesis about Pisa's origins: it is said it was a Greek country, a village of Liguria or an Etruscan city.
Etruscans called the city Pise and developed the economy of the country through arts and crafts production. The city had a strategic position, because it is close to river Arno and the sea.
After the first battles against Ligures, Pisa became the ally of Rome,and took place in the wars against Carthage. At the end, it became a Roman colony.
Around the 15th century, Pisa was subjected by Lombards. From that moment the city became the main port of the Tyrrhenian Sea and Lombards traded with Sardinia, Corsica, Spain and France.


Pisa's power is due to its expansion towards the banks of Arno. Around the VII-VIII centuries, there were born "Chinzica" on the left banck and "Forisportam" outside the Roman and Medieval village. In 1155, the construction of the boundary wall, joined all the three villages. For this reason, Pisa became the most important river port in the peninsula. The port attracts merchants from all Mediterranean and during the XI-XII centuries Pisa became a Marittime Republic.
From that time, Pisa experienced a period of successful conquests in the sea. Pisa's fleet that kept down the islamic expansion, reached Sicilian coasts, the northern Africa and Sardinia. The first archibishop of Pisa, Daiberto, ruled Pisa's fleet during the First Crusade and he became the Patriarch of Jerusalem. Thanks to the power of the fleet, Pisa founded colonies in the Middle East and spread economical relationships with the Byzantine Empire and the Islamic world. Pisa founded many colonies in the northern Africa, and in different centres of the Bizantine Empire, such as Costantinople. There were countries or districts with commercial trades, houses and religious buildings. In that period, Pisa received a cultural and artistic contamination from the Orient, as we can see from the rests of the museums in the city.

In the 12th century, Pisa obtained the rule of favorite nation in place of Venice.
From the middle of the 12th century, Pisa expanded towards the inland of Tuscany: in the south towards Piombino and towards lower Veldarno.
The economic power of the Republic, caused the antagonism with the rival cities such as Genoa, Venice and Amalfi. The last one, was supported by Pope Innocenzo II, who was in conflict with the anti-pope Anacleto, who was supported by Ruggero II of Sicily.
The city that had German emperors, showed devotion for the pope, with a Ghibelline tendence, that was in contrast with the Guelph faction of Florence and Lucca.
During this period there were important political changes. Pisa's mercantile classes, who were extremely powerful, obtained the elimination of the consul charge and the insurgence of a new figure: "Il capitano del Popolo" (the Captain of People). After the rivalry between Della Gherardesca and Visconti families, in which attended the Emperor Federico II in order to find reconciliation, people ordered through a riot the institution of the 12 Anziani. In this way there were both the legislative advises of the nobles and the popular ones. This last group was composed by delegates of the main arts and those ones who belonged to the popular comapanies that ratify laws.

The 14th century is rich of internal and external tensions: on the one hand, the rising bourgeoisie started being opposed to aristocracy to gain more political participation, on the other hand, the loss of preeminence on the sea, decreed the fall of the Republic at the beginning of the 13th Century.
The period of the Republic was a remarkable one in terms of culture and science discoveries. Nicola Pisano and his pupils Giovanni Pisano and Arnolfo di Cambio were the masters of Pisan art. Leonardo Fibonacci is famous for maths and for the introduction of the Indian numeral system. We have to remember also the famous school of Law.


The fall of the Maritime Republic happened at the end of 1200, with the defeat with Genoa in the battle of Meloria in 1284.
In 1324 Pisa lost Sardinia that was controlled by the Crown of Aragon and the whole 13th century was characterized by terrible repressions towards Lucca and Florence.
In 1406 Florentines, ruled by Gino Capponi, conquered the city thanks to the corruption of the Captain of People Giovanni Gambacorta who made the doors of San Marco opened.

With the Florentine invasion, Pisa lived a period of strong regression and political instability. The ex-Republic tried to revolt against Florence through different wars, but in 1509 Florence conquered the whole Pisa, after having blocked all the supplies and provisions. The strong control of Florence, caused a decrease in population and economic and cultural impoverishment. Then the fall of Pisa was due to Florence's decision of isolating all the dangerous families (300 people), imposing a strong taxation and doing all the possibile things against merchants and corporations in order to eliminate Pisa's competition.
What is more, there were collapses in the city, sacks and high death rate because of the fevers brought from the swamp. At the end of the century, when Lorenzo il Magnifico de' Medici controlled Florence, begins a new phase for Pisa. At one side of Fortezza Vecchia (The Old Fortress), that was built by Medici family to control the rebel city, was constructed the Palace of Sapienza that is the seat of the important university.


The renaissance of Pisa began in the 16th century, thanks to Cosimo I of Medici who was used to spend here long periods, further from Florence. Especially the Duke did lots of drainages of fields, enacted economical and legal facilitations in order to repopulate the city. What is more, the Duke changes the appereance of Pisa: along the banks of Arno, he built noble residences instead of the landing place such as Palazzo Reale, the wonderful Church of Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri and the Cavalieri Square.
Pisa's development continued under the power of Francesco I and Ferdinando I. The last one ordered the construction of Canale of Navicelli and Logge of Bianchi.
During the 16th century happened many disasters such as plague, the fire of the Cathedral and the collapse of the bridge which was joining the two banks of the river: Pontevecchio.
Florence was the centre of the power while the port used by Medici was that one of Livorno.


During the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, the enlightened Peter Leopold developed the university and reorganized some zones of Pisa, including the banks of Arno that had suffered the flood. In the course of the Napoleonic invasion (1809-1814), according to Napoleon's will, was founded the famous Scuola Normale (Normale School) similar to the Ecoles Normales of Paris. New railways were built during Lorena's dominion, in order to change the organization of the communications and Tuscany's business.
Pisa took part in the revolutionary movements of "The resurgence" (or Italian Unification) and Mazzini moved there until his death in 1872.

In the Second World War, the city of Pisa suffered strong fascist repressions. On August 31st, 1943, Pisa was bombed by U.S.A aviation and many districts were razed to the ground. Other bombings provoked the loss of inique works of art and finally Pisa reached the Liberation.