Palazzo della Carovana
Site of the Scuola Normale Superiore since 1846, Palazzo della Carovana is one of the most famous historical palaces of the city. Known in medieval times as Palazzo degli Anziani (the first construction goes back to 1286), it was restructured by Giorgio Vasari starting from 1562, at the behest of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo I de’ Medici. The building was the site of the college that schooled the Cavalieri dell’Ordine di Santo Stefano (the Knights of the Order of Saint Stephen), a military and monastic institution founded in 1561 by the Grand Duke to take up the seafaring heritage of the ancient Pisan Republic and to fight against the forays of the Turks in the Mediterranean.
Vasari's building has an internal aspect that is conventual, sober and austere, adorned by its elegant ceremonial halls (the Sala Azzurra - the site of the Archives, the Sala degli Stemmi and the Sala del Gran Priore).
Externally, Palazzo della Carovana boasts a finely decorated harmonic façade: the windows encased in their stone frames, the panels bearing the graffito decorations, the play of chiaro-scuro and the plastic relief of architectural and sculptural elements all combine to lend to the whole an appearance of regularity and symmetry. The decoration was enriched, between 1588 and 1718, with the portraits of the Grand Dukes – Cosimo I, Francesco I, Ferdinando I, Cosimo II, Ferdinando II and Cosimo III – that look out from the niches beneath the windows of the top floor. The external staircase, in neoclassical style, was completed in 1821.
Palazzo della Carovana today houses the administration offices, lecturers' and researchers' studies, most of the lecture halls , the Historical Archives, DreamsLab and part of the library. It was given over to the Normale for its free perpetual use in 1934.