Piazza della Signoria was the center of political life in Florence in the 14th century. It was here that great triumphs – such as the return of the Medici in 1530 – were held, as well as of great misfortunes such as the Bonfire of the vanities instigated by Savonarola. Here, he was hanged and burned on the stake in 1498 after being accused by the Inquisition court to be a heretic. A marble circle on the square shows the position of the incident.
The sculptures in the square create a true outdoor museum, and were placed there as a challenge to the Republic. This function is mainly carried out by the statue of David (actually a copy, the original is located in the Academy Gallery). The Sculpture of Hercules and Cacus made by Brandinelli and located on the right of David was placed there by the Medici to show their power after returning from exile.
The Neptune by Ammannati celebrates the Medici’s maritime ambitions and Duke Cosimo I’s equestrian statue by Gianbologna is an elegant portrait of a man who brought all of Tuscany under the military government of the Medici.
The central element of Piazza della Signoria is undoubtedly Palazzo Vecchio. It was built in the 13th century probably by Arnolfo di Cambio. Throughout its history it has been called in several ways: Palazzo dei Priori, Palazzo of the Signoria and then simply Palazzo Vecchio (Old Palace). It was designed to host the Priors of the Arts and the Gonfaloniere of Justice, the supreme organ of Florence. The building was erected on the ruins of a palace belonging to the Uberti family, banned from town in 1266 because of their political position.
The historical conflict between Guelphs and Ghibellines, which inflamed Florentine politics at the times of Dante Alighieri, is also present in some architectural elements of the palace: the gallery has a square battlement, in a guelph style, while the tower has a swallowtail battlement in a ghibelline style.
The exterior beauty of this typically Medieval building is due mainly to the Arnolfo di Cambio’s project. The interiors are work of Giorgio Vasari. Palazzo Vecchio was built in the style of that time, and with its simplicity embodies the ideals of freedom of Florence.
The actual appearance of Palazzo Vecchio is the result of many complex changes that have occurred over the centuries. The tower is decentralized because the project has taken advantage of a pre-existing tower. The foundations stand on an ancient Roman theater where excavations are not yet completed.
Palazzo Vecchio during the centuries
Palazzo Vecchio assumed various functions depending on the historical and political period. In the middle of the 16th century it was the residence of Cosimo I de’ Medici, whom, with the help of artists like Vasari and Buontalenti, doubled the size of the building. It was when Prince Cosimo I moved to Palazzo Pitti (the new residence of the Medici Family), that the palace was called Palazzo Vecchio.
Between 1865 and 1871 Florence was the capital of Italy and Palazzo Vecchio became the seat of government. Today it houses the Town Hall and a precious museum. All rooms at Palazzo Vecchio are rich in history and secrets, some of them have not yet been solved.