Palazzo della Carovana, also known as Palazzo dei Cavalieri, is a palace with a beautiful facade located in Piazza dei Cavalieri (Knights’ Square), in Pisa, between the Palazzo dell’Orologio and the Church of Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri. The palace was once the headquarter of the Order of the Knights of St. Stephen, but since 1846 it houses the Scuola Normale Superiore.
Palazzo della Carovana was built between 1562 and 1564 by the architect Giorgio Vasari, drastically restructuring the medieval Palace of the Elders (Palazzo degli Anziani). Some remains of the old building are still visible along the sides of the palace.
In 1810, Napoleon suppressed the Order of the Knights of St. Stephen and gave the building to the Scuola Normale Superiore, the university he founded.
The double-flight marble staircase was built in 1821 by Giuseppe Marchelli and the rear part of the building was added between 1928 and 1930, after a design by Giovanni Girometti, on the occasion of the revival of the Scuola Normale.
ART AND ARCHITECTURE
Vasari regularized the uneven medieval facade, fusing three arts he mastered – architecture, sculpture and painting. The sgraffiti with allegorical figures and zodiacal signs, designed by Vasari himself and executed by Tommaso Battista del Verrocchio and Alessandro Forzori between 1564 and 1566, together with marble busts and coats of arms, enliven the facade.
Today, the decorations seem to be in an excellent state of conservation, but they were repainted in the 19th and 20th centuries, being extremely fragile and subject to fading and detachment due to atmospheric agents.
Among the sculptures on the facade, there are the Medici and Cavalieri di Santo Stefano coat of arms, flanked by the allegories of Religion and Justice by Stoldo Lorenzi (1563). Under the top floor, a gallery of busts of the Grand Dukes of Tuscany was added in three different times: Cosimo I, Francesco I and Ferdinando I by Ridolfo Sirigatti between 1590 and 1596, Cosimo II by Pietro Tacca in 1633 and Ferdinand II and Cosimo III by Giovanni Battista Foggini between 1681 and 1718.
Inside, there are some frescoed rooms decorated with stuccoes from the 19th century, where there are paintings by 16th-century artists like Carlo Portelli, Francesco del Brina and Giovan Battista Naldini.
HOW TO GET THERE
On foot, Palazzo della Carovana is about 550 meters away from the Piazza dei Miracoli and the Cathedral of Pisa, and about 1.5 kilometers from Pisa Centrale train station. The closest bus station is Pacinotti 2, about 400 meters away, which can be reached with the buses 2, 4, 5, 13, 21, 22, LAM Verde and Navetta E.