The Palazzo Pretorio of Vicopisano is one of the most representative civil buildings constructed in the Province of Pisa in Middle Ages. Furthermore, the many historical events linked to the Vicariate of Vicopisano since 1400 have left in the palace interesting historical and artistic testimonies which deserve a further analysis. 
The most ancient part of the complex can be identified in the big building made in “verrucano” stone which dates back to the years between the 12th and the 13th century. It is characterized by three pointed arches which connect in the upper part the four pillars in “verrucano” stone that cross its typical ochre façade. 
From the existence in the front part of the palace of beam housings and stone corbels, we can assume the presence of wooden balconies, a common feature at that time, that allowed to gain more space on the outside. The stone corbels are decorated with anthropomorphic (a hand) or geometrical (ribbons and knots) patterns.
Unfortunately there are no printed documents concerning its first destination. According to a recent theory, however, it could have been a visible demonstration of the feudal power that the Archbishops of Pisa had on Vico from the 11th to the 13th century. This could be testified by the imposing dimension of the building – a sign of the proprietor’s wealth – and moreover by its prominent location on the top of the hill dominating the “castellum” of Vicopisano. 
 
A support to the theory of a relationship between the Palace and the Archbishops of Pisa is also the proximity of the building to the tower of Santa Maria (later englobed in the Rocca of Brunelleschi), which belonged to the Archbishopric (at least since 1170). With the property of that tower the Archbishops of Pisa created both a military and civil complex, affirming in that way their secular rule. 
 
This is however just a theory, being not supported by any printed documents concerning Palazzo Pretorio, at least until the 15th century, when it makes its official entrance in “History” . 
 
We were then just after the conquest of Vico by Florence (1406); the “lilied” Republic was intent on reorganizing the territory of Pisa, which had become part of the domain of Florence. Owing to its strategic position, Vicopisano had found itself at the centre of the interests of the Florentines; the Castle that had resisted for nine months to the attacks of the Florentine army, became the seat of the Vicariate of Serchio and Arno Valleys, that was later to become the “Vicariate of Vicopisano”. It was one of the administrative divisions in which - in the 15th century - the County of Pisa had been split up (the other ones where at Lari and Leghorn). The Vicar needed an adequate seat, which was found in “the Palace located near St. Francesco”. It was the year 1411 and that was the first time that the “Palazzo” was officially mentioned; from that time till the twenties, it will always have public functions.
 
The medieval palace was not sufficient to house all the premises necessary to the administration of such a vast Vicariate as that of Vicopisano, therefore some adjoining buildings were linked and more rooms were added (e.g., the 12th century tower on the east side). It is in that period that the custom of placing the Vicars’ coats of arms on the outside and the inside of the Palace was initiated: at present, there are about 50 marble, majolica and “serena” stone coats of arms. During recent restoration works, some painted coats of arms were also found. 
Some of the majolica coats of arms come from the workshop of Della Robbia of Florence. This is a sign of the purchaser’s wealth, who had to be noble and of Florentine origin.
 
As already mentioned, the Palace had been used as the Vicars’ seat for more than three centuries; in that long period of time the structure underwent several adaptations that modified its aspect.
Since the first settling of the Vicars in Vicopisano, they had to find a place where to detain the prisoners who were under the criminal jurisdiction of the Vicar and of his Court. The Palazzo Pretorio turned to be fit for that purpose too and –besides the Vicar’s residence – it also housed the vicarial prisons. In the 16th century, the prisons were divided into “public” and “secret”; this distinction will be kept also in the following centuries.
 
The thousands of prisoners that in five hundred years have been detained into these prisons couldn’t but leave a trace of their stay. Still today thousands of inscriptions have been preserved and are a precious testimony to their sufferings.
 
With the works carried out in the 15th century, new rooms were added with the intent to create an inner courtyard, which is provided with an arched access gate; in the 16th century, an elevation was made on the right part of the palace. In the 17th century, still on the right side, a brick construction was added and works were made in the secret prisons at the second floor and on the vaults of the Vicar’s residence floor. 
 
The original structure of the Palace was slowly adapted to the current requirements; its present aspect was reached in the 18th century, after the completion of the most important works. After that date the general aspect of the Palace has remained almost unchanged; only the prisons – a dirty and unhealthy place till the end of the 17th century – were modified and improved.
In 1923, the Palazzo Pretorio lost its function of Magistrate’s Court and Prison; its inner structure was destined to private use till mid eighties, when it was completely abandoned. In 1986 restoration works were started - as parts of the Palace were collapsing – till its new opening, which took place in 2000, giving back its dignity to this historical complex.