PIAZZA DEI CAVALIERI
The Republic of Pisa definitively felt in October 1406. After a brief period of new hopes of independence with the advent of Charles VIII of France (1494-1509), the city underwent into the power of the Florentine Signoria in October 1509, nevertheless the strong and heroic resistance of the citizens, who had been able to repel the constant assaults of Florence and its allied troops. The unconquerable city was finally besieged for a long time until the population had to surrender by famine.
The present gorgeous piazza was rebuilt into Renaissance style in the 16th century under the government of the Grand Duke Cosimo I de Medici. The Grand Duke of Tuscany transformed it into the seat of the military Ordine dei Cavalieri di Santo Stefano (Order of the Knights of Santo Stefano) which had been established to protect the Tuscan coasts from the Turkish army as well as from pirates.
In 1562 Cosimo I de Medici commissioned from the brilliant Tuscan Mannerist architect, painter and art historian Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574) the complete restoration of the square. Vasari gave to the former piazza a scenic structure, in which the original medieval constructions were modernized or completely rebuilt, according to the style of the age and to the exquisite taste of the architect.
The former site of the Palazzo degli Anziani was transformed into the Palazzo della Carovana dei Cavalieri, asthe headquarters of the Order of the Knights of Santo Stefano. The different medieval structures which shaped the original massive building became, between 1562 and 1567, a huge palace, ideally equilibrated and coherent. In the façade, Vasari designed ordered rectangular windows with stone frames. He also embellished the façade with outstanding graffito ornamentations, characterized for the most part by allegorical figures and zodiacal symbols, which were subsequently carved by his assistants Tommasso di Battista del Verrocchio and Alessandro Forzori di Arezzo. They were combined with wonderful marble busts and coats of arms. On the first floor, at the far end of the façade, were set the two coat of arms of the Ordine dei Cavalieri di Santo Stefano, while on the curvilinear tympanum of the main entrance door were set the Medici coat of arms, including the symbols of the Knights, as Cosimo I de Medici had been proclaimed Grand Master of the Order.
In the centre of the edifice Vasari placed a majestic double-ramp staircase leading to the main entrance. The staircase was constructed after a model by Michelangelo Buonarotti. In 1821 it was replaced by a replica.
Until 1718 other marble portraits of the Grand Dukes of Tuscany of the Medici dynasty were added to the one of Cosimo I. The busts of Francesco I, Ferdinando I, Cosimo II, Ferdinando II and Cosimo III, were set in graceful niches below the windows of the upper floor. Those busts were sculpted by such celebrated Tuscan artists as Pietro Tacca (1577-1640) and Giovan Battista Foggini (1652-1737).
Currently, the magnificent Palazzo della Carovana houses the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa, founded by Napoleon Bonaparte as a prestigious University based on the academic model of the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris.
In 1565 started the construction of the Church of Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri, after a design by Giorgio Vasari. The religious building is situated to the right of the Palazzo della Carovana dei Cavalieri, in the same place where once stood the medieval Church of San Sebastiano alle Fabbriche Maggiori.
Giorgio Vasari designed as well the bell-tower, which was erected between 1570 and 1572.
Visit also in Details:
Piazza dei Miracoli -Piazza dei Cavalieri -Pisa Baptistery - The leaning Tower - Pisa
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