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 are the results 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 Museum, 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 watch just 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 the Rape of a Sabine—and Cellini's Perseus and Medusa. At the center of the piazza is the Neptune Fountain designed by Ammanati, which is dramatically lit at night.

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.

Piazza della Signoria Today

Today, Piazza della Signoria is buzzing with activity. It serves as a photo opp spot, tour group assembly point, and meeting area, and offers some of the best people-watching in Florence. The piazza is lined with bars and restaurants, offering everything from ultra-high-end dining at the Gucci Garden, from star chef Massimo Bottura, to Caffe Rivoire, one of the most popular spots in Florence for a cappuccino or cocktail. There are also some pizzerias of dubious merit and a few souvenir shops. All the bars and eateries have outdoor seating, so the view of the piazza might make you forget about an overpriced or disappointing meal. Other than at the Loggia dei Lanzi, there are no benches and very little shade on the piazza.

The Museo di Palazzo Vecchio, one of Florence's civic museums, covers the history of the Palazzo Vecchio and the rise of Florence was a renaissance powerhouse.

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