Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve happened to walk through Piazza San Silvestro quite often. I used to come here all the time when I was in my first year in University, because I had a dear friend who lived in the students’ dorm that opened onto the square. Back then, there were fewer cars around, and the square could be appreciated in full while you walked down from the Lungarno, towards the Casa dello Studente “Thouar”. The dormitory is closed now, and the building is being renovated and pay parking spaces are all around the central garden and the side walks. The square is not less beautiful, though.
Located outside the major tourist routes in the city, Piazza San Silvestro has an ancient and glorious history. Medieval buildings encircle a central garden with tall pine trees and benches. One side of the square is occupied by the monumental complex composed by the Church of San Silvestro and the old convent.
The Church of San Silvestro dates back to the 12th century, but its façade is Baroque in style. Built at the end of the 18th century, it has three portals, and two statues representing St. Sylvester and St. Dominic decorate the top corners. The church will soon become part of the National Museum of San Matteo, and will be probably be used as a location for conferences and exhibitions.
Next to the church, the old convent is a majestic building with typical Renaissance features. The convent was closed in 1810 by the French. Following Napoleon‘s direct orders, an institution like the Ecole Normale Supérieure of Paris was founded in Pisa, and the convent was transformed into the first seat of the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa, which remains one of the most prestigious universities in Europe to this day.
Today the headquarters of the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa are located in Piazza dei Cavalieri and for several years, the convent was used as a dorm for students attending the University of Pisa, until the building was in such bad shape that it was not safe to live in it any longer.
After a couple of years of neglect, the entire complex is presently undergoing some massive renovation works, thanks to a conspicuous donation by the Monte dei Paschi di Siena Foundation. It has been given to the Scuola Normale di Pisa and will be used for student housing. Part of the building, whose renovations have already been completed, houses now one of the most modern and advanced laboratories for nanotechnology research, called Laboratorio NEST (National Enterprise for nanoScience and nanoTechnology).
Looking for great accommodation in Pisa? Check our self-catering apartment near the Leaning Tower of Pisa.