Piazza della Signoria
Good for: people watching
Not good for: crowds
- cnr Via Calimaruzza & Via de’ Calzaiuoli
Lonely Planet review for Piazza della Signoria
Edged by historic cafes, crammed with Renaissance sculptures and presided over by the magnificent bulk of Palazzo Vecchio, this photogenic piazza is the hub of Florentine life, and has been so for centuries.
Whenever the city entered one of its innumerable political crises, the people would be called here as a parlamento (people's plebiscite) to rubber-stamp decisions that frequently meant ruin for some ruling families and victory for others. Scenes of great pomp and circumstance alternated with those of terrible suffering: it was here that vehemently pious preacher-leader Savonarola set fire to the city's art - books, paintings, musical instruments, mirrors, fine clothes and so on - during his famous 'Bonfire of the Vanities' in 1497, and where he was hung in chains and burnt as a heretic, along with two other supporters a year later.
The same spot where both fires burned is marked by a bronze plaque embedded in the ground in front of Ammannati's Fontana di Nettuno (Neptune Fountain). With its pin-headed bronze satyrs and divinities frolicking at its edges, this huge fountain is hardly pretty and is much mocked as il biancone (the big white thing), not to mention a waste of good marble, by many a Florentine. Far more impressive are the equestrian statue of Cosimo I by Giambologna in the centre of the piazza, the much-photographed copy of Michelangelo's David that has guarded the western entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio since 1910 (the original stood here until 1873 but is now in the Galleria dell'Accademia) and two copies of important Donatello works - Marzocco, the heraldic Florentine lion (for the original visit the Museo del Bargello) and Giuditta e Oloferne (Judith and Holofernes, c 1455; original inside Palazzo Vecchio).
Facing this line-up is the 14th-century Loggia dei Lanzi an open-air museum where works such as Giambologna's Rape of the Sabine Women (c 1583), Benvenuto Cellini's bronze Perseus (1554) and Agnolo Gaddi's Seven Virtues (1384-89) are displayed. The loggia owes its name to the Lanzichenecchi (Swiss bodyguards) of Cosimo I, who were stationed here, and the present day guards live up to this heritage, sternly monitoring crowd behaviour and promptly banishing anyone carrying food or drink.
The piazza is a favourite passeggiata (evening stroll) choice for Florentines, who saunter around it and surrounding streets in the early evening and all day on the weekend, dodging herds of camera-toting tourists before stopping for a coffee, hot chocolate or aperitivo at the city's most famous cafe, Caffè Rivoire.