This was the secular heart of Pisa as contrasted by the Spiritual center at Piazza de Miracoli. The Knights Square is named after the crusading order of Knights of St. Stephen who once had there headquarters here. Today the city hall and the gates to the University of Pisa are here.
Whereas Piazza dei Miracoli has been the religious heart of Pisa since the 11th century, Piazza dei Cavalieri - or Knights' Square - was for many years the political and social centre of the city. The piazza stands where the old Roman forum used to be, and it was almost entirely remodeled in the 16th century by Giorgio Vasari, the favourite architect of the Medici family, when Pisa became part of the Tuscan empire ruled by Florence. The Palazzo della Carovana, for example, was built between 1562 and 1564 to become the headquarters of the Knights of St. Stephen (hence the name of the piazza). The church of San Stefano was also designed by Vasari in a style that is very reminiscent of the Renaissance-style churches in Florence. Most of the buildings now belong to the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa, a highly selective private university. The Palazzo della Carovana has become the university's main building, while the Palazzo dell'Orologio houses the school's library.
Pisa’s most famous (you can certainly even say iconic) sight may be in the beautiful Campo dei Miracoli, but that doesn’t mean that there are no other squares worth seeing. Not that “square” is an adequate translation of piazza in this case. The vast open space that is the Piazza Cavalieri (the Square of the Knights) undoubtedly deserves a much grander name, worthy of the imposing buildings that surround it as well as its own massive scale.
One of these buildings is the classic facade of the church of Santo Stefano in its south eastern corner (photo 2). This dates back to the mid 16th century, but with 18th and 20th century additions. We didn’t go inside but apparently it houses relics, banners and lanterns taken from Turkish ships and pirates from the 16th to the 18th centuries.
My main photo shows the western side of the square – please click to see it in its full glory. On its far right you can see the 1596 century statue of Cosimo I of the Medici family. This powerful family renovated the square in the 16th century as a symbol of their strength and power. Next to the statue is the Palazzo dell'Orologio, which has served as both hospital and prison for the Order of the Knights of Santo Stefano, founded to defend the Tuscan and Mediterranean coasts from Turkish fleets and pirates. This Palazzo was built by connecting two medieval towers, the Torre della Giustizia on the left and the Torre dei Gualandi on the right. This latter is sometimes also known as the Torre della fame, the Tower of Hunger, or Tower of Count Ugolino, because of a rather gruesome legend which tells how he was imprisoned here for treason and left to starve with his children, whom he ate. Today the Palazzo houses the library of the most prestigious University in Italy, the Scuola Normale Superiore.
In the centre of the photo is the Collegio Puteano, with faded frescos beneath its eaves (photo 3 is a close up of one of these) and the tower of the Chiesa San Sisto just visible behind it. And on the far left is just a tiny corner of the 17th century Palazzo del Consiglio dei Dodici which dominates the southern side of the piazza.
On the northern side of Piazza dei Cavalieri stands one of Pisa's most historical buildings - the Palazzo dell'Orologio. In this palazzo's tower, Count Ugolino della Gherardesca, his sons and grandsons were starved to death on suspicion of aiding Pisa's mortal enemies, the Genovese, in the battle of Meloria, which was recorded in Dante's Inferno.
Southeast of Piazza dei Cavalieri stands the official church of Cosimo di Medici's Knights of Sto Stefano - Chiesa di Sto Stefano, also designed by the Medici's favorite architect, post-Michelangelo era, Giorgio Vasari. The church was closed during my visit, so I didn't get to see the interiors. From the outside, though, the church looks like a "run-of-the-mill" renaissance church - but the only church built along that architectural style in Pisa.
Beyond Piazza dei Miracoli, to the southeast lies Piazza dei Cavalieri, one of Pisa's most important squares. Vasari, of Florentine fame, redesigned this town square in the 16th century, named after the religious knighthood of Sto Stefano, founded by Cosimo il Vecchio.
Piazza dei Cavalieri's main attraction is Palazzo dei Cavalieri was designed by Vasari and is covered with beautiful graffiti decoration. Overlooking the piazza is the statue of Vasari's patron, Cosimo Medici.
Besides the main feature of Palazza CAvalieri being Palazzo Carvana, there is St. Stephano church and Palazzo del Orologio in the square. It is called Knights' Square because in the mid ages, knights of Saint Stephano were trained in the palace to learn how to defend the Pisa region from Muslim invaders. It is also called square of seven streets because you know why-there are 7.
This was a focal point for politics in the mid 1100's and continued until Florence decided in 1406 that it should not be. The palace Carvana is now a school for "normal" people; actually called Scola del Normale, it teaches high academic students on a plan for greater things. The palace was built in 1562-64 be Giorio Vasari, who designed most of the square. Later in 1821 the grand staircase in front was added. The facade is called sgraffti, or as a layman explains crude plaster is molded onto the vertical surface and decorative items are styled. Work continued on the palace through 1580, but knights used it starting in 1564. Palazzo del Orologio was built in 1602-04 and two towers were encompassed inside the new construction and connected with a vaulted tunnel. The bell tower was added in 1696
The building was designed by Vasari, who joined two separate medieval towers together by adding an arch.This impressive building was once a jail and was built in 1607 for the Order of the Knights of St. Stephen.
Leaving the Campo dei Miracoli we made our way into town, without a map, an interesting experience!
We found the Piazza dei Cavalieri, with a beautiful old building, the original university building, several palazzi, a historic chuch and a clock tower where a man was apparently bricked in and starved to death.
Piazza dei Cavallieri (The Knights Square) -This charming square was at one time the ‘civic centre' of mediaeval Pisa, and before that may have been the site of the Roman forum. The building was altered during the 1500’s into the main headquarters for the Order of the Knights (Cavalieri) of Santo Stefano. The Church of S. Stefano and the Palace of the Orologio (clock) where Count Ugolino della Gherardesco was imprisoned and condemned to die of starvation, as narrated by Dante in the ‘Divine Comedy’.
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