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The Piazza della Signoria is a veritable museum of outdoor sculpture and has been a key stage for Florentine civil and political life since the 14th century.
The square was originally owned by the Uberti, followers of the imperial faction, who entered into conflict and lost to the supporters of the Pope. Following these events the Uberti were exiled and their lands, though initially left abandoned, were appropriated to build a new palace for the city: the Palazzo Vecchio. The square has undergone several expansions in order to become what it is today.
Another historical episode that this piazza has witnessed relates to the figure of the Dominican monk Girolamo Savonarola. This monk fascinated the inhabitants of the city with his ideals, according to which the Florentines were the chosen people and should to atone for their sins as the Church would soon be made to pay for their mistakes along with the rest of society, who sought only their own profit and pleasure. Savonarola became so popular that crowds flocked to hear him. In addition, the monk established in the square what was known as the "Bonfire of the Vanities", where people would discard worldly possessions of all kinds. Savonarola was so important that he exerted a decisive influence on city politics. However, his constant attacks on the Pope forced Rome to threaten Florence with massive retaliation if it did not hand over Savonarola. Finally, the monk was hanged and burned in the square in 1498.
It is also important to realise that, at the time, the idea was to lend a touch of elegance and magnificence to the location, so do the finest pavement was sought, beggars and prostitutes were expelled, and heavy traffic was banned.
The piazza's appearance today is likely to disappoint the visitor, since branches of banks and insurance offices now occupy the surrounding buildings. However, if you're visiting in summer, you may be lucky enough to enjoy free outdoor concerts and performances.
And if not, do not worry, you are still free to enjoy the square's main attraction, the multitude of statues on display. The highlight of these is possibly the copy of Michelangelo's famous David. Beside it is the also notable Fountain of Neptune, created by Ammannatti in 1575, and which represents the Roman god of the sea in commemoration of Tuscan naval victories. The city's inhabitants have given the statue the nickname "Biancone", for its remarkable white colour. This statue was not very well received at the time, to the extent that Michelangelo accused Ammannatti of having wasted fine marble.
In the square you will also find what is known as the Loggia dei Lanzi, built by Orcagna and featuring three elegant arches designed so that dignitaries could shelter from the weather during public events. The name originates from the Lancers, the personal bodyguards of Cosimo I, whose headquarters was located nearby. The Loggia features a number of Roman statues of priestesses on the back wall. In addition, visitors may contemplate two splendid sculptures: The Rape of the Sabines, by Giambologna, and Perseus, a bronze statue by Cellini depicting Perseus holding Medusa's head, a stern warning regarding what would be the likely destination of the enemies of Cosimo I.
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