Centre of the political and social life of the city for centuries, it is without a doubt the most beautiful square of Florence, built upon the ruins of the Ghibelline homes, of the 13th century. The square's name actually derives from tha PALACE where already in the 14th century the government of the Republic (called the "SIGNORIA") resided. This structure, still today the seat of the Comune and the offices of the Major, dominates the entire square which is "crowned"with beautiful statues and appears to the visitor a genuine "open-air" museum. The piazza has been the stage of innumerable historic events: from the riots of the 1300's to the solemn cerimonies and proclamations of the Medici; from the execution of those who had conspired against Lorenzo and Giuliano in 1478 (when the bodies of the murderers dangled from the windows of the palace) to the assassination of Savonarola. After being tortured on the rack for weeks in the palace, this Dominican monk was hung and burned along with two other brothers on the 23rd of may, 1948. One can read about this dramatic incident in the round, marble plaque in the pavement in front of the Neptune fountain. The nearness of this square to the museums and principal monuments of the city have made it a meeting place for all. At the end of an intense and tiring day, one can sit a table at one of the outdoor cafés and enjoy the "show" at sunset: the stones of the Palazzo Vecchio become honey-coloured and seem to give off a soft glow while the statues are already in the shadows.
The famous 14th century Loggia "of the Lanzi" or, more commonly, "of Orcagna" to whom the construction has been attributed, rises on the same side of the piazza as the plalace. A number of sculptures are on display under the elegant arches of the loggia which were erected between 1376-1382 for the public ceremonies of the Signoria. First, there are the six Roman statyes against the wall in back representing heroines. There is also the RAPE OF POLISSENA, a 19th century work by Pio Fedi. HERCULES AND THE CENTAUR is by Giambologna. To the sides of the loggia there are two masterpieces: PERSEUS WITH THE HEAD OF MEDUSA by Benvenuto Cellini and the RAPE OF THE SABINES by Giambologna. Cellini was considered the finest Florentine goldsmith of the 1500's and his school became a tradition. Still today there are many Florentine goldsmiths' workshop. The Perseus was cast in bronze from 1545-1554. For the execution of the work Cellini had to overcome a number of problems for the fusion. In the end the work was a perfect succes and cellini was capable of exhibiting anatomical and decorative detail in this outstanding statue. The "Rape of the Sabines" dates to 1583 and is one of this Flemish artist, Giambologna. In the twisting and interwining of the three figures, the exceptional technical ability of the artist is manifest. This sculptor lived many years in the court of the Medici.
The Other Statues of the Piazza
On the steps of the palace, at the sides of the entrance, there are the statues of HERCULES AND CACCUS, by Baccio Bandinelli, and a copy of David that in the last century replaced the original by Michelangelo. Both the Hercules and the David were placed in front of the Palazzo della Signoria as a symbol of the liberty won, jealously guarded by the Florentines. They were also a symbolic warning or challenge to whomever might have tried to take over the Republic. On the corner of the palace there is the famous figure of NEPTUNE in white Carrara marble. It is a work by the artist who undoubtably had more success as an architect than as a sculptor: Bartolomeo Ammannati. The fauns and the marine divinities are works fused in bronze by Giambologna, who is also responsable for the impressive equestrian monument of Cosimo I, Grand duke of Tuscany of the Medici family.