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Fountain of Neptune, Piazza Della Signoria, Florence, Italy.

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Piazza della Signoria

Duomo & Piazza della Signoria

The hub of local life since the 13th century, Florentines flock here to meet friends and chat over early-evening aperitivi (predinner drinks) at historic cafes. Presiding over everything is Palazzo Vecchio, Florence's city hall, and the 14th-century Loggia dei Lanzi, an open-air gallery showcasing Renaissance sculptures, including Giambologna's Rape of the Sabine Women (c 1583), Benvenuto Cellini's bronze Perseus (1554) and Agnolo Gaddi's Seven Virtues (1384–89).

In centuries past, townsfolk congregated on the piazza whenever the city entered one of its innumerable political crises. The people would be called for 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. Nearby, Ammannati's Fontana di Nettuno, with pin-headed bronze satyrs and divinities frolicking at its edges, dazzles again thanks to a €1.5-million restoration in 2017–19 funded by Florentine fashion house Salvatore Ferragamo. It was originally unveiled in 1565 to celebrate the wedding of Francesco I de’ Medici and the Grand Duchess Giovanna d’Austria.

Equally impressive are the equestrian statue of Cosimo I by Giambologna in the centre of the piazza, the much-photographed copy of Michelangelo's David guarding the western entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio since 1910 (the original stood here until 1873), 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).

The Loggia dei Lanzi at the piazza's southern end owes its name to the Lanzichenecchi (Swiss bodyguards) of Cosimo I, who were stationed here.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Duomo & Piazza della Signoria attractions

1. Fontana di Nettuno

Recently restored thanks to a €1.5-million investment by Florentine fashion house Salvatore Ferragamo, Ammannati's monumental fountain is impossible to…

2. Palazzo Vecchio

0.02 MILES

This fortress palace, with its crenellations and 94m-high tower, was designed by Arnolfo di Cambio between 1298 and 1314 for the signoria (city government…

3. Loggia dei Lanzi

0.04 MILES

What makes Piazza della Signoria so utterly gorgeous is its wealth of fountains and statues, climaxing with this 14th-century loggia where works such as…

4. Gucci Garden

0.04 MILES

Elegantly housed in 14th-century Palazzo della Mercanzia, Gucci Garden is an all-out whimsical ode to the Florentine fashion giant. The practically…

5. Chiesa e Museo di Orsanmichele

0.08 MILES

This unusual and inspirational church, with a Gothic tabernacle by Andrea Orcagna, was created when the arcades of an old grain market (1290) were walled…

6. Galleria degli Uffizi

0.08 MILES

Home to the world's greatest collection of Italian Renaissance art, Florence's premier gallery occupies the vast U-shaped Palazzo degli Uffizi (1560–80),…

7. Il Porcellino

0.09 MILES

Tucked beneath the stone arches, on the southern side of the loggia sheltering the city's 16th-century Mercato Nuovo (literally 'New Market'), today a…

8. Fondazione Zeffirelli

0.09 MILES

Opera buffs will adore this museum celebrating more than seven decades of work by the late, internationally renowned, Florence-born film director Franco…