On the fertile Tuscan plains where the Arno river flows into the sea, the area around Pisa has been inhabited since Etruscan times, and became a Roman colony in 179BC. Pisa used to lie directly on the sea, with boats docking at the walls of the main square the Campo dei Miracoli, but the centuries of silt has pushed it further inland.
Pisa's heyday came during the 11th and 12th centuries, when it was an important naval power and ruled an impressive empire (including the islands of Corsica, Sicily and Sardinia), but its powers waned in favour of other Italian states. Galileo Galilei taught Physics at the University here in the early 1600s, and his legacy of scientific tradition continues today. Pisa suffered terrible bombing damage during World War II, but fortunately a fair amount of its beautiful ancient architecture remains.