History (1A)

Evidence from classical Greek and Roman authors referred to Pisa as an ancient city. Strabo, a geographer and Greek writer from the first century BC, established the origins of Pisa from references to the mythical Nestor, king of Pylos, just after the fall of Troy. On the other hand, Maurus Servius Honoratus, a fourth-century Roman writer, wrote about the king of the Pisei and about his town which was founded about 13 centuries before the Common Era.

Etruscans, Greeks, Romans... The origin of the city is still unknown and historians do not agree when it comes to citing the founding peoples of the city, although recent archaeological finds of an Etruscan necropolis in 1991 tip the balance towards the latter. Apparently, towards the 9th century before Christ there was a settlement of Alfea origin, which then merged with the Etruscan civilisation.

What is clear is that the first ports in the Mediterranean area were built here, and they were the first to have large warships. As early as 180 BC, Pisa became a Roman colony and legions departed from Portus Pisanus to trade and expand the Roman Empire.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, Pisa was not as depressed as other Italian cities. On the contrary. It was an easy place to defend and coveted by all. So it was a very busy port used by Goths, Lombards and Carolingians.

In the seventh century Pope Gregory I helped by offering several ships for military expeditions against the Byzantines in Ravenna, in the northern Adriatic. And in that time the Lombards and Byzantines vying to dominate northern Italy in the current regions of Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna and Veneto, among others. But Pisa became the sole Byzantine centre, and as a result of its commercial interests with neighbouring cities, was ceded to the Lombards in a completely peaceful manner. So, Pisa became an ever more powerful trade hub between Tuscany and Corsica (formerly Córcega), Sardinia (formerly Cerdeña) and the coasts of France and Spain.

Pisa later became part of the Duchy of Lucca and from the tenth century, although Pisa was not the capital, it was the largest and most important city. Some writings even cite it as the capital of Tuscia (now Tuscany) but this is not true. 

In the eleventh century the great development of the city made it one of the most powerful Italian Maritime Republics, together with Venice, Amalfi and Genoa. And for much of the Middle Ages its shipping fleet dominated the western Mediterranean. And so it came to found colonies in Spain, North Africa and the coast of Asia Minor.

In this century it was allied with Genoa to expel the Saracens from the islands of Corsica and Sardinia. And following the First Crusade, Pisa became even richer. In fact, the twelfth and thirteenth centuries are considered the time of the city’s greatest splendour, which brought it into conflict with other Italian cities such as Venice and Genoa. And, in one of history’s great paradoxes, Pisa was defeated by Genoa in the Battle of Meloria on 6 August 1284, even though it was a much smaller power in number and military capacity. The Genoese won and made sure Pisa would never again take to the sea: in 1290 it completely destroyed the port and covered it with salt.

Pisa then entered a period of sharp decline and even lost its colonies in the fourteenth century. And in 1406 it was sold to the Florentines, but the rebirth did not come until the Medici decided to rebuild its university in 1472, which was originally created in 1343.

So, Pisa gave up its position as Tuscan port of Livorno and focused on cultural power. Today, the city is renowned worldwide for its leaning tower, although there are many corners with surprising history and incalculable artistic value.

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