Pietrasanta is a lovely medieval town known for its artistic tradition. It is named the Little Athens of Italy. Guess why? Thanks to the many international artists that chose it as their adopted country. You will find marble and bronze workshops, artists, and monuments.
I really love this town and its historic center. I am glad to have found my job here. The first time I saw Piazza del Duomo, its beauty left me breathless. I consider Pietrasanta a tiny jewel of Tuscany set on a strip of land between the Mediterranean Sea and the mountains of the Apuan Alps.
Enjoy a pleasant walk to Piazza Duomo and through the streets of the center with the little workshops, the local specialty shops, the art galleries, and temporary exhibitions. And I suggest you take your time to get a typical Italian aperitif in one of the bars that face the square.
Where is Pietrasanta in Italy
The town is part of Versilia on the coast of northern Tuscany. It is about 20 miles north of Pisa and 15 miles south of the world marble capital of Carrara. The walled town of Lucca is only 30 minutes away by car using the A12 highway.
Being only 2 miles off the coast, Pietrasanta is also a perfect summer destination of Tuscany. You can quickly reach the beaches of Marina di Pietrasanta and the luxury of Forte dei Marmi in 10/15 minutes.
Florence is only 115 km (71 miles) away. With the car, you only need 1 hour and 30 minutes. Also, the use of the train between Firenze and Pietrasanta is very easy and quick. You only have to change train in Pisa Centrale.
As you see Pietrasanta makes a perfect base for exploring the northern part of Tuscany. From the less known area of Lunigiana to the historical cities of Pisa, Lucca, and Florence.
It is also the best place to stay in Tuscany to visit the super famous Cinque Terre and Portovenere. In about an hour by train, you can enjoy the colors of Liguria and of the Five Lands.
Pietrasanta, a town of artists and workshops
Since its foundation on 1200 by Guiscardo da Pietrasanta, chief magistrate of the close town of Lucca, the village was a crossroads of artists coming from all over the world.
The origins of Versilia’s artistic marble-working tradition go far back in time. Under the Medici government, there were marble quarries opened in the nearby Alps. Many artists, including Michelangelo Buonarroti, visited Pietrasanta to learn skills from local artisans, work with them and get the best white marble for his famous works of art.
Many of them also donated their pieces of art to the town making of Pietrasanta as a real open-air museum.
Pietrasanta is one of the most qualified centers for the art of sculpture. There are numerous artisan studios and foundries scattered in the town. They are often run by families that hand down skills from generation to generation.
The nineteenth-century Italian poet Giosuè Carducci, Nobel Prize for literature in 1906, in a letter said:
“I like Pietrasanta. A beautiful small city with a unique square, a cathedral worth of a great city, all against the background of the Apuan Alps. And what a landscape all around! What a mountain, what greenery, what a shadow, what a river, what cool streams running merrily under the chestnuts, olives, and orange trees, and the marble quarries flank the greenery on every side!”
Pietrasanta was also a way station along the Via Francigena, the pilgrim route connecting Canterbury in England to Rome. More and more modern pilgrims have been choosing to walk the Francigena’s Path instead of the overcrowded Camino de Santiago. A pleasant way to find yourself discovering Italy. Slowly. If interested, here is the map and the itinerary of Via Francigena in Tuscany.
What to do in Pietrasanta
Here are the things to see in the Little Athens of Italy.
Potter around Pietrasanta
The town is quite small and the best way to discover its beauty is by walking around. You won’t get lost but you will find art everywhere. Have fun recognizing statues of famous artists like the Warrior by Botero or the Centaur by Mitoraj. If you wish to get the best gelato goes to the gelateria in front of the train station.
Pietrasanta is a very quiet place during the day. In the summer, while most of the people rest in the sun at the beaches of Versilia, the town takes a nap. Instead, from five pm, Pietrasanta takes its light cotton gown off to wear its best summer dress. All the bars prepare the buffet for the aperitivo, and restaurants set tables on the street for dinner. Hundreds of people crowd the alleys and the square, in a lively and charming atmosphere.
The Piazza del Duomo
The Piazza del Duomo is a chest of treasure holding precious gems. The Duomo, ancient Palazzi, bars and little shops overlook this wonderful rectangular square. It is the meeting point for locals and tourists, the beating heart of Pietrasanta. During summer it becomes the set of outdoor temporary art exhibits. Artists famous worldwide show their marvelous artworks, made in different materials, in the square, and in the nearby cloister of Sant’Agostino.
Duomo of San Martino
The Duomo of San Martino is the majestic cathedral, built in the fourteenth century, which dominates the square. The facade is covered with white marble. Inside, frescoes and other important art pieces, enrich the allure of the church. The bell tower on the left is completely made of bricks. If you are lucky to find it open, you can get in and see its interior from the base. Stairs go up to the top taking the shape of a spiral.
The white of the facade and the brown of the bell tower, together with the Tiffany green of the dome and the blue of the sky create a brilliant mix of colors.
Archeological Museum of Versilia
On the left side of the church, you find the grey and yellow Palazzo Moroni. It hosts the Archeological Museum of Versilia. Pretty small but still interesting, the collection counts findings from prehistoric to medieval, and a collection of Renaissance ceramics.
Turning your back to the Dome, on the left corner, there is the Palazzo Pretorio. On the facade, you see marble coats-of-arms from a glorious past. Indeed, it was the old house of the Captain of Justice. Today, the ground floor hosts the town theater. I love the green wooden door with the sign Teatro above. It is a perfect backdrop for a picture.
The Complex of Saint Agostino
The complex of Saint Agostino with the church and the adjoining cloister dates back to the fourteenth century. It was founded by Augustinian monks. The church in Romanesque style has a marble facade and the apse has a restored wooden choir. Once inside, an explosion of beauty will impress you. Nine different altars, headstones of old noble families, elegant paintings and frescoes, decorate the wide space. The church is deconsecrated and is currently the seat of art exhibits. You can imagine how the addition of modern art gives this place a unique charm.
Bozzetti Museum of models
From a little door, step into the cloister. Marble columns surround the courtyard that today hosts the Cultural Center. Go up on the first floor to enter the quiet Civic Library and the Bozzetti Museum of sculpture.
The Bozzetti Museum and International Park of Contemporary Sculpture. The park invites visitors to take an open-air tour between more than 600 sketches, models, and drawings of sculptures. All made and donated to the town by Italian and foreign artists who worked in Pietrasanta.
Climb up to the Rocca di Sala
Between the theater and the Complex of Sant’Agostino start a nice and panoramic walk up on the hill to the Rocca di Sala. The elegant noble Palace you see was built in 1408 by Paolo Guinigi. It hosted Emperors and poets but today, unfortunately, it is not open to visitors. From there, you have a splendid view of the town and of surroundings. On a sunny day, you can even glimpse a stretch of the blue sea. My tip is to go at sunset time.
The old gate of Pietrasanta
The Rocchetta Arrighina and Porta a Pisa is the most picturesque access to the historical center. The building is the only survivor of the three ancient town gates. You still see flowers on the windows upstairs. Downstairs a couple of nice bars are the best place to enjoy an Italian Aperitif.
Getting out of the main square…
So far, I told you about things to see in the main Piazza. As soon as you get out of it, there are other deserving places.
Church of San Antonio Abate
Don’t miss for any reason a visit to the Church of San Antonio Abate. From the Dome square, take the central Via Mazzini until you reach the pink facade of the probably oldest church in town. It exhibits ancient wooden statues of Saints and two unmissable Botero frescoes. The Gate of Heaven and Gates of Hell. At least, his version!
Visit galleries of Modern Art
Being an arty town, the historical center has a lot of art galleries showing elegant, sometimes misunderstood, pieces of modern art. Besides the permanent studios, in the summertime, every garage and property became a temporary exhibit where Italian and international artists show their last artworks.
Take a tour to a marble or bronze studio
A visit to a private studio during the working hours could be very interesting. You have the opportunity to see people carving a block of white marble or melting bronze to give life to the artist’s idea. Officially, due to security reasons, these kinds of tours are not allowed. Ask the concierge of your hotel or the tourist office kiosk. For sure they have good contact to organize this unique experience.
Dine in a fancy restaurant in Pietrasanta
You have plenty of good choices. It is not easy to give suggestions because most of the restaurants serve great dishes. Consider paying around forty euros for a three courses meal (wine excluded). My tips go to the Vaticano Restaurant to get a delicious Florentine Steak and the Lunedi dello Studio for the wonderful location, nice staff, and great food.
MuSA Virtual Museum
The MuSA is the Virtual Museum of Sculpture and Architecture. It opens its doors to visitors during the summer. This modern space is both a virtual museum and an exhibition center of sculpture models. The most interesting thing to do is watching a video projected in 8 different video walls. They tell the story of the area and of the process of marble extraction. You find also three big touch screens with information about the local industrial and artisan companies. You can do virtual tours of marble quarries. And even browse the digital library and find artworks made with the local marble all over the world.
Curiosities about Pietrasanta
- The Chilean writer Luis Sepulveda passed away in April 2020 due to COVID 19, was Pietrasanta Honorary Citizen.
- The Mexican film director Alfonso Cuaron, Oscar 2014 winner for Gravity and director for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, lives in Pietrasanta with his family.
- The Italian Actress and Hollywood star Gina Lollobrigida, sex symbol during the 60s, has a place in Pietrasanta. It happened to her to organize exhibitions with her sculptures in the center.
- The famous Colombian artist and sculptor Fernando Botero fell in love with Pietrasanta that he bought a house here. He uses to spend a few months a year in Tuscany.
- Igor Mitoraj, the famous polish sculptor died in 2014, set up his marble studio in 1983. He has been an honorary citizen of Pietrasanta since 2001.
- During winter season 2016, the town center hosted a fascinating exhibit of Salvador Dalì sculptures. Read here about our experience.
- On summer 2017, the sky over Via Mazzini and Via Garibaldi is invaded by thousands of floating colored umbrellas.
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(Updated on the 11th May 2020)