Top choice in Pisa

Leaning tower of Pisa, Italy
Piazza del Duomo
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Pisa's magnificent duomo was begun in 1064 and consecrated in 1118. Its striking tiered exterior, with green-and-cream marble cladding, gives onto a columned interior capped by a gold wooden ceiling. The elliptical dome, the first of its kind in Europe at the time, was added in 1380.

Admission is free but you need a ticket from another Piazza dei Miracoli sight to enter or a fixed-timed free pass from the ticket office behind the Leaning Tower or inside Museo delle Sinopie.

The cathedral, which served as a blueprint for subsequent Romanesque churches in Tuscany, was paid for with spoils from a 1063 naval battle that the Pisans fought against an Arab fleet off Palermo. To mark the victory, and to symbolise Pisa's domination of the Mediterranean, the cathedral was Europe's largest when it was completed.

The main facade – not finished until the 13th century – has four exquisite tiers of columns diminishing skywards, while the echoing interior, 96m long and 28m high, is propped up by 68 hefty granite columns in classical style. The wooden ceiling, decorated with 24-carat gold, is a legacy from the period of Medici rule.

Before setting foot in the cathedral, study the three pairs of 16th-century bronze doors at the main entrance. Designed by the school of Giambologna to replace the wooden originals destroyed (along with most of the cathedral interior) by fire in 1596, the doors are quite spellbinding – hours can be spent deciphering the biblical scenes illustrating the immaculate conception of the Virgin and birth of Christ (central doors), the road to Calvary and crucifixion of Christ, and the Ministry of Christ. Kids can play spot the rhino.

Inside, don't miss the extraordinary early-14th-century octagonal pulpit in the north aisle. Sculpted from Carrara marble by Giovanni Pisano and featuring nude and heroic figures, its depth of detail and heightening of feeling brought a new pictorial expressionism and life to Gothic sculpture. Pisano's work forms a striking contrast to the controversial 2001 pulpit and altar by Italian sculptor Giuliano Vangi.