Piazza della Signoria
While visiting Hotel Cimabue, take a short walk to visit the historical Piazza della Signoria. Its history dates back to 1268 when the Guelphs once again took control of the city. At the time, their rivals, the Ghibelline which included the families of the Foraboschi’s and the Uberti’s, were living in and around this area when the Guelphs decided to bring their houses down. The first structures to be demolished were the towers belonging to the two families, the later whose family head was Farinata, also celebrated by Dante in his “Divine Comedy“.
In all, 36 houses were wiped out leaving the peculiar L shape of the square, unaligned, which has remained the same ever since. The square’s name actually derives from the PALACE which occupies it, designed by Arnolfo di Cambio in 1298, where the government of the Republic (called the “SIGNORIA”) resided.The palace continued to maintain its political function in Florence during the reign of the Medici’s and later under Duke Cosimo I, who resided there between 1540 and 1565. It was during this time that Giorgio Vasari was commissioned to double the building in size. Later when the Grand Duke and his family decided to move to the new Pitti Palace in 1565, Palazzo della Signoria began to be known as Palazzo Vecchio. Certainly not only the civil center of Florence but one of the most visited open air attractions of the city where the Uffizi and Loggia dei Lanzi can be found containing numerous works of art.
A number of sculptures are on display under the elegant arches of the loggia which were erected for the public ceremonies of the Signoria. First, there are the six Roman statues 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. The statues in the square deserve a chapter all to themselves. Apart from the great sculptures lined up in front of the facade of Palazzo Vecchio including probably the most famous which is the copy of David by Michelangelo replacing the original in tha late last century.
In front of the fountain of Neptune by Ammannati a round marble plaque on the ground marks the exact site where the Dominican monk Fra Girolamo Savonarola, after being tortured on the rack for weeks in the palace, was hung and burned along with two other brothers on the 23rd of May, 1948. The square is bordered by a series of houses that date from the 14th-16th centuries, among them the Tribunal of the Mercanzia (1359, an ancient court of justice that dealt in commercial matters), and 16th century Palazzo Uguccioni, whose facade is thought to have been designed by Raphael. The palace containing the Alberto Della Ragione Collection, which the Genoan collector donated to the City Council (1970), stands at number 5 and contains approximately 250 Italian paintings in its 21 rooms, mostly from the period of 1910-1950. The huge palace of the Assicurazioni Generali, built in Renaissance style in 1871, stands on the sites of the ancient Loggia of the Pisans and the church of Santa Cecilia.
In 1980 when the square was repaved, substantial remains of many of the buildings that stood here in antiquity were discovered. After studies were done by the Board of Architectural Assets the area was confirmed as being the site of the first human settlement, which was founded across the Arno, while the Neolithic remains that were discovered dated back even earlier than the foundation of the Roman city.
In addition, a great many remains of Roman Florence were found underneath the mediaeval houses, including some thermal baths and a workshop for the dying of cloth. The presence of this type of production shows that, long before the enormous development in the 12th-13th centuries that brought so much wealth to the “city of the Flower” and allowed it to finance all its artistic masterpieces, this activity was already playing an extremely important part in the history and economy of the city.