Sitting on the “spallette” and other things people do in Pisa at sunset

Michele Ci

PISA Let’s go to Pisa! Photos of the tower, looking for a good pose, a little bit more to the right.. ok.. done! Bye, bye. This is what happens to 99% of tourists. But not to a real traveller. Follow me, dear reader, and I’ll take you where Pisa will find a place in your heart. There are only a few steps:

1. Go to Pisa between May and October;
2. Attempt to go in June;
3. Push yourself beyond the Tower.

Number 1: because is in the rest of the year, Pisa is generally a rainy city. Number 2: because here June is the month par excellence, called “Giugno Pisano”, full of cultural and historical events (especially the “Luminara di San Ranieri”, 16ht June). Number 3: because you’re not a simple tourist.


When an Italian goes abroad, you know, if he says he comes from Pisa he will meet with the answer: “ah, where there is the Tower”. It’s an easy association and you forgive them: after all, the Tower is perhaps the most famous Italian monument in the world. But if I were to ask any of them what else they saw in Pisa, I won’t receive any other answer but “oh, actually I stayed there only a few hours to take the usual photos with the Tower”.

A true “Pisano” in the sense of one who has truly lived in Pisa, cannot be mistaken, however, as to which is the best attraction of this town by the river of Arno: its sunsets. A Spanish friend on Erasmus in Pisa told me one day, “Hey Mich, do you know what I will miss so much about Italy? Its sunsets. More beautiful than anywhere in the world.” In Pisa, let me say, they are even more beautiful.


You can watch them from anywhere: sitting in the Piazza dei Cavalieri, gazing at the fiery sky stretching behind the Palace of Count Ugolino, or being surprised by the colored light that will shine upon your face as you turn into an alley of the old town, witnessing the yellow light that decorate the archs on the walls of the Scotto Garden, or even in some window’s reflections on the river bank, in the orange that blends with the blue, tinting the clouds behind the walls in the Square of Miracles, but above all in the spectacle that you can experience only on the “spallette” along the river – (literally, “little shoulders”: walls of stone and bricks that form the highest part of the banks) -, parapets that the Italian poet Leopardi called “a sight so beautiful, so great, so magnificent, so gay, so pleasant that makes you fall in love”, as written on a plaque that you can find there.


The “spallette” parapets are the place that most characterizes the life of a Pisan summer: you sit down there, drinking a beer, eating ice creams, smoking a cigarette, having a chat or simply admiring the sunset. On my PC, during five years of college, I think I have collected more photos of sunsets in Pisa than of all the trips I have done. Why? Because if it is true that the best way to enjoy a spectacle is through direct contemplation and not the display of your smartphone, it is equally true that “compartir es vivir” (sharing is living) and in the face of so much beauty it’s impossible not to desire to share it.

And so let’s go, my reader, to taste a cold beer on the steps of St. Stephen’s Church in Piazza dei Cavalieri, or to lean against the railing of the Ponte alla Fortezza, or to go to one of the small bars on the beaches along the Arno, or to sit on a sidewalk in a corner of Piazza dei Miracoli, to watch the sun set in the garden of the Hesperides.


And then, dear reader, come with me and sit on the “spallette”, in the point where the Hotel Nettuno was located in “The Late Mattia Pascal” period; sit with me, with a good liqueur in hand and maybe Chet Baker in the head, waiting for the sunset to set the sky aflame and brighten the colors of the buildings, to draw upon the river, like upon a watercolor, the world overlooking from the banks. Wait for the sky to change from light blue to orange, red, and then back to deep blue tinted by the yellow street lights.

Only then can you say you’ve seen the best of Pisa.

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