THE BRILLIANT FRIEND: The locations in Pisa

The brilliant friend and the locations in Pisa. As we said in our first article on the subject, the period of Lenù in Pisa goes between 1963 and 1967. It is told in the second novel History of the New Last Name of 2012. In the television adaptation we have two episodes of the second season set in the city: The Ghosts and The Blue Fof, which aired Monday, March 2, 2020 on Rai Uno.


Piazza Duomo

Starting from the Piazza del Duomo (from where our tours also start), it is not mentioned in the book. But in the TV series, right there, Pietro Ariota makes the marriage declaration to Elena and she gives him the manuscript of her first book.

Piazza dei Cavalieri

The Piazza dei Cavalieri di Santo Stefano and the Palazzo della Carovana home to the Scuola Normale Superiore, Piazza that we visit on our tour Discovering Pisa is instead a more present location in history, in fact as a student of the Normale, Elena frequents this square and the palace a lot: here classes, exams, meetings with professors and other students are held and here was the men’s college where Elena spent romantic nights with Franco Mari.

The Scuola Normale Superiore is a prestigious university ‘brought’ to Pisa in 1810 by Napoleon as an Italian branch of the École normale supérieure in Paris.

The term ‘Normal’ refers to the primary teaching mission, to train high school teachers who educate citizens according to coherent didactic and methodological ‘standards’.

The first seat of the Normale was in the convent of Piazza San Silvestro and only in 1847 the current seat of the Carovana palace was inaugurated. The facade features monochrome graffiti decorations with zodiac signs on the first level and allegories of the sea on the upper ones. Above the entrance is the coat of arms of the Medici family with the famous six spheres flanked by the allegories of Religion and Justice. In the niches there are the busts of the Grand Dukes of Tuscany, from the first Cosimo I to the last Giangastone.

In front of the palace stands the statue of Cosimo I in the guise of Grand Master of the Order of the Knights, the work of Pietro Francavillasu drawing by Giambologna.

Thanks to the television series we have the possibility to enter the Palace and scroll between corridors and rooms. In the scene where Elena leaves Mari’s room and walks the staircase, you can see the stained glass window on the ceiling with the cross of the Knights of Santo Stefano and the Medici coat of arms in the centre, surrounded by stately coats of arms.

The brilliant friend and the locations in Pisa: Vicoli and Corso Italia

In the first Pisan episode, Piazza dei Cavalieri is the starting point of a playful escape of Elena and Franco chased by a group of friends. We see them passing through Via San Frediano and through the alleys of the historic center, for the occasion covered with advertising posters of the 60s. Then they reach the Lungarno Pacinotti.

Here he is met by a procession of Saint Gobain workers who demonstrate against the precarious conditions in the factory.

The history of the French glass factory is closely linked to Pisa, it was in fact the first Italian headquarters inaugurated in 1889 with the name Fabbrica Pisana di Specchi e Plates Cast di Vetro. It is located in the current headquarters in the Porta a Mare district, a neighborhood that has also developed thanks to the presence of the factory.

Passing by Ponte di Mezzo, the two boys reach Corso Italia and hide in the windows of a clothing store, where they will later go in to buy a coat.

The store is now home to the Guess by Marciano brand, which is located inside a historic building with beautiful windows on the upper floors.

Small curiosity: many of the palaces in Corso Italia were noble palaces and have not only large decorated facades, but are richly decorated inside them. Unfortunately, most cannot be visited, but to ‘make an idea’ you can enter the building where there is H&M. It is the Palazzo Vincenti, it was the seat of the Chamber of Commerce and has frescoes from the 1920s by Galileo Chini.

The brilliant friend and the locations in Pisa: I lungarni

The same path through the Pisan alleys that we talked about, we will find in the next episode, when Pietro Ariota timidly follows Elena to get to know her. 

In the scene where they show up they are stopped in the Vidi Alley right in front of the Lumière sign. Today it is a nightclub, but until 2011 it was a cinema and not just any one, but the first cinema in Italy inaugurated in 1899!

It is located in the premises of a noble palace that still belongs to the family of the Counts Agostini on the Lungarno of Tramontana. It is immediately recognizable thanks to the red terracotta and brick facade.

In the same building there is another historic place in Pisa, the Caffè dell’Ussero, a bar open since 1775 and a meeting point for intellectuals of past centuries.

The Lungarno is the area of the city that is named and shown most often, in fact it is right on the river that overlooks the Timpano. Let’s talk about the College of the Scuola Normale Superiore Women’s Section.

The College: The Tympano

The boarding school is located on the Lungarno Pacinotti at number 51. He is called by the normalists Timpano because it was a Calabrian entrepreneur, Domenico Timpano, who donated the building to the Scuola Normale in 1932.

The building was damaged during World War II by the explosion of the nearby Ponte Solferino and was rebuilt in the fifties.

For filming, it was chosen to ‘move’ the dormitory to another historic building in the city: Hotel Royal Victoria. Inaugurated in 1837, it retains the atmosphere of the last century. He has had among his guests illustrious personalities such as Virginia Woolf, Lord Byron and Émile Zola.

In the scene where Elena looks out the window to talk to Pietro, you can see that her room is right next to the sundial. While from the internal shots you can see what a magnificent view of the river the rooms overlooking it enjoy.

“Finally one evening in November, exasperated, I went out carrying the box with me. I couldn’t feel Lila on me anymore and inside (…) I stopped on the Solferino bridge to watch the lights filtered by an icy mist. I placed the box on the parapet, pushed it slowly, little by little, until it fell into the river as if it were her.”

The Timpano overlooks the Ponte Solferino which plays an important role in the story, in fact it is from here that Elena throws the notebooks entrusted to her by Lila into the river.

Here, however, we have an anachronistic event: Pisa is flooded in November of ’66 which devastates the Lungarni and even the bridge is completely destroyed by the force of the Arno river, precisely the period that is described in the episode.

Most likely Ferrante will have lived in Pisa, perhaps even as a normalist, but not in the period near the flood.

For the TV series the Ponte di Mezzo is used, closer to the headquarters used as Timpano, and from which you have one of the typical city views.

The brilliant friend and the locations in Pisa: other locations

For lunch with the Ariota family, in the final episode of the season, it was chosen to recreate a restaurant in Piazza Carrara. Hidden from the statue of Grand Duke Ferdinando de Medici, the work of Pietro Francavilla on a design by Giambologna, Elena and Pietro exchange stealthy kisses.

Last place no longer existing, but recovered for the TV series is the Bar Battellino.

It was a historic bar that was located in front of the church of San Frediano and was a meeting place for normalists. In the book he is not mentioned, while in the series Elena, walking after Franco’s departure, looks inside the place where his university colleagues sit cheerfully.

These scenes were shot from the opposite side of the river in Via della Nunziatina, across Corso Italia.

Filming in Pisa took place between September and October 2019 and lasted about a month in which the city made a sort of time travel and found itself in the sixties.

In fact, in recent weeks the Lungarno has changed its face: the windows showed clothes that were in fashion at that time. The signs of the shops had the style of those years and parked along the sidewalk were vintage cars.