The Piazza della Signoria
The Piazza della Signoria holds a special place in the hearts and minds of all Florentines. This L-shaped plaza, named for the Palazzo della Signoria (the old name for the Palazzo Vecchio) has been the city’s main hub since the age of the Roman Empire. When it became the seat of power for the Medici dynasty it also turned into a meeting point for the artists who drove the Italian Renaissance. Visitors flock to it to see the immense tower of the Palazzo Vecchio, the open-air sculpture museum in the Loggia dei Lanzi, and the Fountain of Neptune that marks the spot where the art-hating monk Girolamo Savonarola was put to death. Locals also come in droves to shop, meet friends, and simply bask in the enduring beauty of their fair city.
Visiting the Piazza della Signoria: What to See
The Palazzo Vecchio
Like the whole plaza, the Palazzo Vecchio sits atop the ruins of the Roman settlement of Florentia. In fact, you can still see the ruins if you take a tour of the palace’s basement. Conceived of as the seat of civic and administrative power – the state house, if you will – for Florence, the building was designed by Arnolfo di Cambio, who was also responsible for the original plan of the Florence Cathedral. It’s no accident that the building dominates the center of Florence with both its height and immense volume – his was a structure meant to exude power and unassailability. Cosimo I de Medici liked it so much he moved his residence into it. He was also responsible for many of the interior decorations by the likes of Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Giorgio Vasari, and Donatello. Its lofty tower is the highest point in metropolitan Florence and contains two small cells that were used to keep very important prisoners like Cosimo di Giovanni de’ Medici and Girolamo Savonarola.
The Loggia dei Lanzi
The Loggia dei Lanzi, aka Loggia della Signoria is an open-air gallery containing original sculptures as well as copies. It was originally created as a barracks for Cosimo I’s mercenaries, but after various modifications it was opened up and filled with statuary by some of the finest contemporary artists. The most notable statues include the Rape of the Sabine Women, carved by Jean de Boulogne from the largest hunk of marble ever brought to Florence, Perseus, a bronze by Benvenuto Cellini that the artist was only able to finish by feeding his own furniture into the fire that was melting the bronze to cast it, and the Medici Lions, one of which is of ancient and somewhat murky origins. Nearby, in front of the entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio, stands a replica of Michelangelo’s David. The actual statue stood in this location from 1504 to 1837 when it was removed to the Accademia.
The Fountain of Neptune
This fountain, which sits near the entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio, has the dubious distinction of being valued less for its artistic merit than for its link to one of the more unpleasant footnotes in Renaissance history. In a few brief years during the 1490’s the Dominican friar, Girolamo Savonarola had a hand in expelling the Medici’s from Florence, instituting extreme puritanical campaigns throughout the city, and popularizing the term “bonfire of the vanities” – which is when you take a lot of nice things like books, luxury goods, and works of art, and burn them in public. His own bonfire was held on February 7, 1497, in the Piazza della Signoria, reportedly claiming books by Ovid and Dante, as well as art by Lorenzo di Credi and Sandro Botticelli. Not long after, the mob turned on Savonarola, whose apocalyptic predictions had failed to materialize. He was excommunicated and put to death on the site where the Fountain of Neptune now stands.
Tips for Seeing the Piazza della Signoria
The Piazza della Signoria is a public square and is open to foot traffic 24 hours a day. The Palazzo Vecchio is the only site mentioned above that has specific opening times. From April to September it’s open every day except Thursdays, 9:00am to midnight ; On Thursdays: 9:00am to 2:00pm. From October through December it’s open every day except for Thursdays, 9:00am to 7:00pm; and on Thursdays: 9:00am to 2:00pm.
You do not need tickets to visit the Piazza della Signoria but you do need tickets for the Palazzo Vecchio. They cost €10.00 to see the museum or €14.00 to see the museum and climb the tower (or €12.00 to visit the museum and the battlements.) Bear in mind that the tower closes before the museum, though.
Although this may seem self-evident, it is not allowed, and indeed illegal, to climb on any of the statues in the Piazza della Signoria. Over the years there have been repeated attempts by (usually drunk) people, to climb on or otherwise vandalize some of the statues. They have always been caught and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Today the plaza is monitored by CCTV cameras. Should you get a hankering to scale a statue, rest assured that you will be identified and end up in a lot of trouble.
The Best Time to Visit the Piazza della Signoria
Although Florence’s most famous plaza is often crowded during high season, it is large enough to never feel claustrophobic so deciding when to visit is really up to you. The Palazzo Vecchio is one of the less visited museums in Florence – the crowds line up next door at the Uffizi – so you can also choose when you want to see it. Because it is open later than most museums during the high season we recommend that you go in the evening before a late dinner. Also, considering that the tower (open till 9:00pm during high season) has 416 steps, it’s much nicer to climb it in the evening than when the sun is high.
Read More on our Blog
March 30, 2016
"A meal without wine is like a day without sunshine." - Italian proverb The history of wine in Italy is as old as the culture itself. Its popularity is evident not only in its ubiquity at social events and family gatherings but also in the nearly endless wine-based proverbs in ...More Info
July 17, 2015
Everybody knows Italian food: mozzarella cheese, pastas, world-class wine...right? Sort of. Italian cuisine actually goes far beyond those staples. Not only is it highly regional, as discussed we discussed in this post, the Italians also have a much wider palate than many American and Europeans. In fact, some of ...More Info
July 9, 2014
One amazing aspect of traveling around Italy is having the opportunity to eat some of the best and freshest food in the world. Every Italian region, even city, has their own dishes that are unique to each area. If you make your way to Florence, don't forget to try the ...More Info