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Located in a vast alluvial plain, four meters above sea level, a few kilometers from the Tyrrhenian coast, Pisa (approx. 92000 inhabitants) extends along the two side of the Arno. One of the major cultural centers of Italy, Pisa contains a rich artistic patrimony, with medieval re-elaborations of Islamic, Lombard and local influences. Capital of the Tuscan province and headquarters of the episcopality, the city today is a prestigious university and research center, with an economy primarily focused on the tertiary sector (computers, tourism, and services), alongside the textile, glass, chemical, pharmaceutical and mechanical industries.
An Etruscan center of mediation between the routes of the Tyrrhenian area and the hinterlands, in the 1st century B.C. Pisa became an important town and Roman port. It developed in the High Middle Ages because of its particular importance as a river port. Given its statute as a free commune, Pisa achieved its maximum splendor in the 12th century, when it affirmed itself on the Tyrrhenian Sea as a marine republic. Already at this time, however, rivalry with nearby cities (Lucca, Florence and Genoa) initiated the political decay of the city, which was fed by the internecine wars between the various classes. The defeat endured against Genoa by the Meloria (1284) was fatal to the city. After a period of alternating Signoria, the city again began to enjoy a period of relative well being under the domination of the Medici (15th century) and then the Lorena (19th century). During this time the government affirmed itself as an important cultural center and benefited from great public works projects. In 1860, a plebiscite approved the annexation of Pisa to the Kingdom of Italy.
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Simple and genuine, Pisa’s cuisine is like that of Tuscany in general, except for some typical local dishes, in which river and sea fish (inheritance of ancient maritime successes) take first place. We note the soups (vegetable, bean, rice and clams), rice with black cuttlefish, steamed cuttlefish with peas, “testicciola alla Pisana” (head of veal boiled and flavored with a caper sauce), tripe and the famous “cee.” The latter are baby eel, so young that they are still blind, that return from the sea up the mouth of the Arno. They are fried in batter with oil and sage, according to a recipe taken from the Artusi. Side dishes include the flavorful “fagioli all’uccelletta” (tiny bird beans), stewed in tomato sauce. A meal traditionally ends with “fave dei morti” (beans of the dead). These are light almond cookies accompanied by a locally made vin santo.
In an important cultural center like Pisa, it is easy to run into someone at the rare book and antique stamp shops, bookbinders, or well-furnished shops. In Piazza Duomo, besides the many bizarre souvenirs, one finds jewelry and other objects made from coral and alabaster. Walking along Borgo Stretto, where elegant shops display the clothes of famous designers, one cannot help admiring the traditional atmosphere and the specialties of the Salza pastry shop, which is the most famous pastry shops in Pisa. A visit to the picturesque morning market of the Vettovaglie, emblem of daily life, should not be missed. To shop, to meet people, and perhaps to partake of a sweet, contributes to the slower pace of life.