Santa Maria della Spina

In a city of remarkable architecture, this Gothic church on the River Arno is considered to be one of Pisa’s most impressive structures despite its small size.

What Santa Maria della Spina lacks in size it surely makes up in beauty: the white, ornate facade is considered one of the most impressive in all of Europe. The church occupies a perch overlooking the river and attracts visitors for its 13th-century Gothic architecture.

Walk along the River Arno to reach the church. By day the white marble is almost luminescent beneath the warm Tuscan sun, while at night floodlights make it stand out in a different way. Visit on a evening when the river is calm to take photos of the church’s reflection on the water’s unbroken surface.

While many consider this tiny church to be waterfront, prior to 1871 it was even closer to the River Arno. As the water in the river rose it was decided that Santa Maria della Spina was in danger of being damaged and was moved to higher ground.

Spend some time inspecting the exquisite detail of the church’s exterior. On its roof sits a series of tabernacles, each containing a statue. The church’s west-facing front features three gables with stunning circular cutouts. Look for the statue of the Virgin and Child by the Pisan sculptor, Giovanni di Balduccio, which adorns the space between the gables.

Enter through the heavy wooden door to see the light flood through the rose windows, forming beautiful patterns on the floor. A tabernacle that is said to once have held a thorn from Jesus’ “crown” is located on the left wall of the nave. While the inside is much more reserved than the exterior, the breathtaking sculpture, Madonna of the Rose, set in its center is widely considered a masterpiece of its era.

The Santa Maria della Spina is located just outside Pisa’s historic center and can be reached on foot from Pisa’s Leaning Tower. A bus services the area and Pisa’s central train station is just a short walk away. The church has sporadic opening hours, which can be checked at Pisa’s tourist office. Admission is free.

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