Piazza Cavalieri & the Palazzo dell'Orologio ☆☆☆

The piazza, Piazza Cavalieri, Pisa, Italy (Photo by Nikolai Karaneschev)
The piazza

A felicitous square withe the Vasari-deigned Palazzo dei Cavalieri, San Stefano church, and legendary Palazzo dell'Orologio

If you go down Via Santa Maria from Piazza Duomo and take a left on Via d. Mille, you'll come out into Piazza dei Cavalieri, possibly the site of the Roman town's forum and later the square where the citizens of the medieval city-state met to discuss political issues.

Grand Duke Cosimo I's private order of kinghts

Its current incarnation is named for the order of Knights of St. Stephen (I Cavalieri di Santo Stefano) that Cosimo I de' Medici founded in 1561—well after the crusades for the Holy Land were over. Cosimo's knightly order existed mainly to flex his Grand Ducal muscle to rivals and to perform a bit of piracy on his behalf against the Turks—framed, of course, as fighting the pirates of the Barbary Coast and Ottoman Empire. (As is often the case in naval history, one power's pirates are the other's heroes and vice versa.)

Vasari's frescoed Palazzo dei Cavalieri

Giorgio Vasari remodeled the Palazzo dei Cavalieri in 1562 for Duke Cosimo, and decorated it with recently restored and very detailed graffiti. Though a 1596 statue of the Grand Duke kitted out as the Grand Marshal of the Order still stands in front of it, the palazzo itself now houses the renowned university college Scuola Normale Superiore (Sns.it).

Pirate booty and baroque canvases in Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri

Next to the palace is the Knights' baroque church of Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri, which houses some tempera paintings by the likes of Empoli, Allori, and Vasari—plus a Birth of Christ (1564) by Bronzino—as well as Turkish banners captured on pirate raids.

Palazzo dell'Orologio and the brutal punishment of Count Ugolino della Gherardesca

Also on the piazza is the stubby clock tower of the Palazzo dell'Orologio. It looks pretty, but it was once the site of a horryfying improsonments.

Count Ugolino della Gherardesca was accused by an accomplice named Ruggiero of having betrayed his fellow Pisans in the fateful 1288 battle in which Genoa decisively crushed Pisan naval might. The aged count was caprtured, and then locked up in this tower—along with his son's and grandsons—and left to starve to death.

The tragic story was immortalized by both Dante in his Inferno, Chaucer in the Monk's Tale, Shelley in Tower of Famine, and Seamus Heaney in Ugolino.

Here was Dante''s take, from Canto XXXIII:

          His mouth raised up above his savage meal,

          That sinner wiped his lips upon the hair

          Of the head that he had chewed on from behind.

          Then he began, "You want me to make new

   5      A desperate grief which even to call back

          Crushes my heart before I start to speak.

          "But should my words become a fruitful seed

          Of infamy for this traitor whom I gnaw,

          You’ll see me speak and weep at the same time.

10       "I don’t know who you are or by what means

          You’ve come down here, but when I hear you talk

          You surely seem to me a Florentine.

          "You need to know I was Count Ugolino,

          And this is the Archbishop Ruggieri.

15       Now I shall tell you why I am his neighbor.

          "How I was captured and then put to death

          As the result of his own evil scheming,

          I, who trusted him, need not explain.

          "What you cannot have heard, however, is

20       How cruel my death was: that you now shall hear

          And you will know whether he has wronged me.

          "A narrow window in a tower cell,

          Which for my sake is called the Tower of Hunger

          And in which others must be yet locked up,

25       "Had through its opening shown me several moons

          Already, when I dreamed the nightmare

          Which rent the veil of the future for me.

         "This man seemed lord and master of the hunt,

          Chasing the wolf and whelps upon the mountains

30       Which block the Pisans’ view toward Lucca.

          "With well-trained hounds, a lean and eager pack,

          He had sent up ahead of him, in front,

          Gualandi, with Sismondi and Lanfranchi.

          "After a short run, so it seemed to me,

35       Father and sons fell tired, and with sharp teeth

          It seemed to me I saw their sides ripped open.

          "When I awoke before the break of day,

          I heard my little sons who were with me

          Crying in their sleep and asking bread.

40       "You are cruel if by now you do not grieve

          To think of all that my own heart forewarned:

          And if you do not weep, what would you weep for?

          "They then awakened, and the hour drew near

          When customarily they brought us food,

45       But each of us was worried by his dream.

          "Below I heard them nailing up the door

          Of the horrible tower — at that, I looked,

          Without a word into my young sons’ faces.

          "I did not weep, I had so turned to stone

50       Within me. They wept. And my little Anselm

          Said, ‘You stare so... Father, what is it?’

          "At that I shed no tears, and I said nothing

          In answer all that day nor the next night

          Until another sun rose on the world.

55       "When a small ray of sunlight made its way

          Into that forlorn prison and I saw

          By their four faces the look in my own,

          "I bit both of my hands in desperate grief,

          And they, thinking I acted out of hunger,

60       All of a sudden stood straight up and wailed,

          " ‘Father, the pain for us would be far less

          If you ate us! You put this wretched flesh

          Upon us and now you may strip it off!’

          "I calmed myself, not to make them sadder.

65       That and the following day we kept silence.

          Ah hard earth! Why did you not open up?

          "After we had come to the fourth day,

          Gaddo threw himself down full length at my feet

          And cried, ‘Father, why don’t you help me?’

70      "He died then, and just as you see me

          I saw my three fall one by one by one

          Between the fifth day and the sixth, and then,

          "By now blind, I went groping over each boy

          And for two days I called them who were dead.

75       Then fasting did what grief had failed to do."

          When he had spoken this, with his eyes rolling

          He once more seized the loathed skull in his teeth

          Which were as strong on the bone as a dog’s.

          Ah, Pisa! scandal to all the peoples

80       Of the lovely land where our  is sounded,

          Since your own neighbors are slow to punish you,

          Then let Caprara and Gorgona move

          And make a dam for the mouth of the Arno

          So that every soul in you might drown!

85       For if Count Ugolino was accused

          Of having himself betrayed your fortresses,

          You had no right to crucify his sons.

Photo gallery
  • The piazza, Piazza Cavalieri, Italy (Photo by Nikolai Karaneschev)
  • Palazzo dei Cavalieri, Piazza Cavalieri, Italy (Photo by Nikolai Karaneschev)
  • , Piazza Cavalieri, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
  • The Church of Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri, Piazza Cavalieri, Italy (Photo by Luca Aless)
  • The interior of the Church of Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri, Piazza Cavalieri, Italy (Photo by Johann H. Addicks)
  • Stoning of St. Stephen (1573) by Giorgio Vasari, Piazza Cavalieri, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Trophies from pirate ships inside the Church of Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri, Piazza Cavalieri, Italy (Photo by Johann H. Addicks)
  • Nativity of Christ (late 16C) by Bronzino inside the Church of Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri, Piazza Cavalieri, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • The Palazzo dell
  • Count Ugolino della Gherardesca, as drawn by Johann Caspar Lavater (1575–78), Piazza Cavalieri, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Count Ugolino della Gherardesca with his sons and grandsons, as portrayed by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux c. 1862, now in Paris
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Useful Italian phrases

Useful Italian for sightseeing

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is?... Dov'é doh-VAY
...the museum il museo eel moo-ZAY-yo
...the church la chiesa lah key-YAY-zah
...the cathedral il duomo [or] la cattedrale eel DUO-mo [or] lah cah-the-DRAH-leh
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
Closed day giorno di riposo JOR-no dee ree-PO-zo
Weekdays (Mon-Sat) feriali fair-ee-YA-lee
Sunday & holidays festivi fe-STEE-vee
ticket biglietto beel-YET-toh
two adults due adulti DOO-way ah-DOOL-tee
one child un bambino oon bahm-BEE-no
one student uno studente OO-noh stu-DENT-ay
one senior un pensionato oon pen-see-yo-NAH-toh

Basic phrases in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
How much is it? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
Excuse me (to get past someone) Permesso pair-MEH-so
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...the bathroom il bagno eel BHAN-yoh
...train station la ferroviaria lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
information informazione in-for-ma-tzee-OH-nay

Days, months, and other calendar items in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
At what time... a che ora a kay O-rah
Yesterday ieri ee-YAIR-ee
Today oggi OH-jee
Tomorrow domani doh-MAHN-nee
Day after tomorrow dopo domani DOH-poh doh-MAHN-nee
a day un giorno oon je-YOR-no
Monday Lunedí loo-nay-DEE
Tuesday Martedí mar-tay-DEE
Wednesday Mercoledí mair-coh-lay-DEE
Thursday Giovedí jo-vay-DEE
Friday Venerdí ven-nair-DEE
Saturday Sabato SAH-baa-toh
Sunday Domenica doh-MEN-nee-ka
Mon-Sat Feriali fair-ee-YAHL-ee
Sun & holidays Festivi feh-STEE-vee
Daily Giornaliere joor-nahl-ee-YAIR-eh
a month una mese oon-ah MAY-zay
January gennaio jen-NAI-yo
February febbraio feh-BRI-yo
March marzo MAR-tzoh
April aprile ah-PREEL-ay
May maggio MAH-jee-oh
June giugno JEW-nyoh
July luglio LOO-lyoh
August agosto ah-GO-sto
September settembre set-TEM-bray
October ottobre oh-TOE-bray
November novembre no-VEM-bray
December dicembre de-CHEM-bray

Numbers in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 uno OO-no
2 due DOO-way
3 tre tray
4 quattro KWAH-troh
5 cinque CHEEN-kway
6 sei say
7 sette SET-tay
8 otto OH-toh
9 nove NO-vay
10 dieci dee-YAY-chee
11 undici OON-dee-chee
12 dodici DOH-dee-chee
13 tredici TRAY-dee-chee
14 quattordici kwa-TOR-dee-chee
15 quindici KWEEN-dee-chee
16 sedici SAY-dee-chee
17 diciasette dee-chee-ya-SET-tay
18 diciotto dee-CHO-toh
19 diciannove dee-chee-ya-NO-vay
20 venti VENT-tee
21* vent'uno* vent-OO-no
22* venti due* VENT-tee DOO-way
23* venti tre* VENT-tee TRAY
30 trenta TRAYN-tah
40 quaranta kwa-RAHN-tah
50 cinquanta cheen-KWAN-tah
60 sessanta say-SAHN-tah
70 settanta seh-TAHN-tah
80 ottanta oh-TAHN-tah
90 novanta no-VAHN-tah
100 cento CHEN-toh
1,000 mille MEEL-lay
5,000 cinque milla CHEEN-kway MEEL-lah
10,000 dieci milla dee-YAY-chee MEEL-lah

* You can use this formula for all Italian ten-place numbers—so 31 is trent'uno, 32 is trenta due, 33 is trenta tre, etc. Note that—like uno (one), otto (eight) also starts with a vowel—all "-8" numbers are also abbreviated (vent'otto, trent'otto, etc.).