Travel Stories

La Piazza Della Signoria

The Most Illustrious Town Square in Florence

What's the best vantage point to ponder the most illustrious town square in Florence, the Signoria? An outdoor table at the venerable Caffè Rivoire—preferably over a delicious ioccolata con pane, a dark, mud-thick hot chocolate. Late at night, when the crowds have gone, you can search the long shadows and imagine that very little has changed here since the 1400s.

The Signoria is the most elegant sculpture garden in Europe. Masterpieces include the splendid Neptune Fountain by Ammannati, Hercules and Cacus by Bandinelli, and a precise copy of Michelangelo's David, all strategically poised in front of the Palazzo Vecchio. This grand public space has been the centerpiece of Florence since the 15th century, the Golden Age when the city was established as the most beautiful in Europe.

Eminent merchants in their ostentatious finery met here to discuss business in the midst of Florence's raucous daily life—the din and odors from the produce vendors, butchers, and fishmongers were as intense as any Indian bazaar. Barbers also plied their trade in the open air; preachers harangued the crowd for their wanton ways; children played palla al calico, a type of soccer; and young gentlemen enjoyed chess and dice on the stone steps.

With so many Florentines crowded together, the Signoria was also where sudden eruptions of violence might occur—some with political aims; other seemingly by accident. City records show that a runaway horse once charged into the piazza, knocking over stalls and creating general panic. City officials thought that a revolt was in progress, so they locked the palace doors and the public executioner went into hiding, fearing retaliation from the friends and families of his victims.