Piazza Giovanni Bovio  – The Palazzo Appiani




Piazza Bovio is one of a kind: it is a not a work of man but of nature. It looks onto a unique scene: the Tuscan Archipelago Islands scattered around and the sea clear and calm on sunny days and rough and grey on stormy days.  Whatever the weather, the view that you can see from any corner of the square is always new and fascinating.

Piazza Bovio is situated on a rocky promontory that juts into the sea, formed geologically over thousands of years.  Over the last twelve centuries, the sea and human presence have smoothed the rough rocks, but have not altered their shape and appearance which is, in fact, very similar to that of the geographic ‘boot’ of Italy. Another original impression is that the layout of the old part of the city seems, from above, to resemble a seagull in flight with its wings spread and its neck and head (exactly the shape of Piazza Bovio), reaching out into the open sea.

Around the year 1000, the military fortification of the Rocchetta was built at the head of the rock to defend and control navigation in the sea channel that separates Piombino from Elba Island. In 1907, the square was named after the intellectual Giovanni Bovio thus replacing the generic term of ‘the Piazzarella’. The Rocchetta was removed in the 1920s and replaced by street furniture. Benches were placed along the inside perimeter of the square up to its head, which continued to be called the ‘Rocchetta’ locally.  The visitor, sitting on his favourite bench, looks slowly around 180 degrees and can enjoy the view of the entire panorama of the Tuscan Archipelago: Giglio, Montecristo, Elba, Capraia, and sometimes even Corsica in the distance and the nearby isles of Cerboli and Palmaiola.

Fact or fable? A letter, dated 1749, bequeathed the nickname ‘pan di sapone’ (bar of soap) to the rocky spur on which Piazza Bovio stands.


At the entrance to the square stands the fourteenth century Appiani Palace, named after Gherardo Appiani who chose it as his first home when he left the governing of Pisa to found the Signoria of Piombino.

Over the centuries, the building was subjected to many changes, but you can still see some fragments of that time, such as the large portal surrounded by sandstone masonry onto whose central keystone the family crest was carved. The wide entrance with its adjoining porch still preserves the columns with their capitals, now unfortunately filled in, so blocking the view of the port and the Channel. There are also the so-called ’dungeons’ which were not places of detention or punishment, but only cool underground rooms for the storage of foodstuff and the other daily necessities of the inhabitants of the palace.

In the 1560s, the Appiani left the palace to settle in the new buildings of Cittadella. Since then, the palace has been used as a residence by the collateral branches of the ruling family and was both a theatre in the eighteenth century and used for the reception of diplomats.

French domination, from 1805 to 1815, turned the Palace into a penal colony, with cells for inmates located in the rooms next to the Palace, facing the west, while the main Palace was reserved for the garrison and the administration of the colony. The remaining period of the nineteenth century was spent in anonymity, and only in the 1910s was it restored and turned into a school complex.

The smaller building, adjacent to the Palace and facing south was the Palace chapel and remained in use until the French period. It is now a pleasant dining location.

The façade of the Palazzo Appiani displays a large bronze in honour of the fallen in WW1. It is the work of the Florentine sculptor Raffaello Romanelli, first exhibited on May 24th 1922, while the two side votive torches, by the same artist, were added on November 4th 1924. The central painting shows two dying soldiers: one shirtless, with a rifle in his right hand, pointing with his left hand at the Roman monuments such as ancient glory (you can recognise the Pantheon); the other is kissing the flag supported by the image of Victory.