The spacious Piazza dei Cavalieri lies in the heart of the city. It was here, in 1406, that the end of the Republic of Pisa was proclaimed.
The piazza was totally transformed when Cosimo I de' Medici (b.1519/r.1537-74) commissioned his architect Giorgio Vasari (1511-74) to erect the buildings for the newly created Order of Saint Stephen (Sacro Militare Ordine di Santo Stefano Papa e Martire), Also known as the Cavalieri di Santo Stefano, the Knights of Saint Stephen had been set up in 1562 to lead the fight in the Mediterranean Sea against Ottoman Turks.
The Palazzo della Carovana (also known as the Palazzo dei Cavalieri), which dominates one side of the piazza, was built (1562-64) as the Knights' headquarters. The façade is decorated with allegorical figures, signs of the zodiac and the busts of six of seven of the grand dukes of Tuscany. The grand dukes traditionally served as the grand masters of the Order of St Stephen.
The statue (1596) of the first grand duke of Tuscany, Cosimo I de' Medici, which stands in front of the palace, is the work of the Franco-Flemish sculptor, Pierre Franqueville, better known as Pietro Francavilla (1548-1615).