Piazza della Signoria in Florence, Italy

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© by Martha Bakerjian

The Piazza della Signoria is top among Florence's most important squares. In the heart of the city, dominated by city hall — the Palazzo Vecchio — and skimmed by one wing of the Uffizi Gallery, the Piazza della Signoria is Florence's primary meeting place for both locals and tourists. Several concerts, fairs, and rallies are held in the Piazza della Signoria throughout the year.

Florence's most famous square started to take shape in the mid- to late-13th century when the Guelphs defeated the Ghibellines for control of the city. The piazza's L shape and the lack of uniformity of its surrounding buildings is the result of the Guelphs leveling many of their rivals' palazzi. The piazza gets its name from the towering Palazzo Vecchio, whose original name is the Palazzo della Signoria.

The Statues of Piazza Della Signoria

Numerous statues designed by some of the most famous Florentine artists decorate the square and the adjacent Loggia dei Lanzi, which serves as an outdoor sculpture gallery. Almost all of the statues located on the square are copies; the originals have been moved indoors, including to the Palazzo Vecchio and the Bargello, for preservation. The most famous of the piazza's sculptures is a copy of Michelangelo's David (the original is in the Accademia), which stands to watch outside the Palazzo Vecchio.

Other must-see sculptures on the square include Baccio Bandinelli's Heracles and Cacus, two statues by Giambologna — the equestrian statue of Grand Duke Cosimo I and Rape of a Sabine – and Cellini's Perseus and Medusa.  At the center of the piazza is the Neptune Fountain designed by Ammanati.

The Bonfire of the Vanities

Besides the statues and the buildings that circle it, Piazza della Signoria is perhaps best known as the site of the infamous Bonfire of the Vanities of 1497, during which followers of the radical Dominican friar Savonarola burned thousands of objects (books, paintings, musical instruments, etc.) deemed sinful. A year later, after stirring the ire of the Pope, Savonarola himself was sentenced to die in a similar bonfire. A plaque on the Piazza della Signora marks the spot where the public execution took place on May 23, 1498.

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