Florence’s most noble and famous piazza, the place to get a real feel for the city. It is a vast open-air, traffic-free sculpture gallery with elegant cafés and restaurants. This wide, open square marks the heart of the centro storico, and next to the Galleria degli Uffizi.
The Piazza della Signoria has been the political focus of Florence since the Middle Ages. Surrounded by tall buildings, notably the vast, somber Palazzo Vecchio, this is where the ruling city elders called open-air public assemblies in times of crisis. The crowd was often provoked by speeches on the arringhiera (oration terrace), a raised platform, and the gatherings frequently degenerated into violence.
The enormous Loggia dei Lanzi was designed to be used by dignitaries for formal meetings and ceremonies. It was completed in 1382 and has been used as an open-air sculpture museum since the late 18th century. Dominating the front is Cellini’s mannerist bronze Perseus (1545). Considered his greatest work, it shows Perseus triumphantly holding aloft the severed head of Medusa. Donatello’s Judith and Holofernes was the first of the statues to be placed in the piazza (this is a copy – the original is in the Palazzo Vecchio). In front of the main entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio stands a copy of Michelangelo’s David. The other large statue nearby is Bandinelli’s Hercules and Cacus (1534), described by his rival Cellini as an ‘old sack full of melons’. At the corner of the Palazzo Vecchio is Ammanati’s massive fountain (1575), with the figure of Neptune. The plaque in the pavement in front of the fountain marks the spot where Girolamo Savonarola was burned at the stake as a heretic and traitor on 23 May 1498. A ceremony to mark his death is held in the square annually on this day.
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Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio (Town Hall), an outstanding example of Florentine civic purpose, with superb rooftop views from the loggia. Vast, elaborately decorated public rooms, intimate private apartments and fine sculptures, including Victory by Michelangelo.
The palace stands on the site of the medieval Palazzo dei Priori, rebuilt to Arnolfo di Cambio’s design. Designers of palazzi comunali throughout Tuscany based their designs on its battlemented structure. Cosimo il Vecchio was imprisoned in the tower before his exile in 1433. Savonarola was also imprisoned here in 1498, but went on to be burned at the stake in Piazza della Signoria.
Past the main entrance is the courtyard, reconstructed by Michelozzo in 1453. It was elaborately decorated by Giorgio Vasari in 1565 to celebrate the marriage of the son o fCosimo I to Joanna of Austria.