Buon giorno and welcome to A Road Retraveled! Our Florence on A Segway tour continues with Piazza della Repubblica and Piazza della Signoria, two of Florence’s most distinguished squares for their splendid architecture and open air museum filled with breath taking sculptures.
In the previous episode we visited Piazza del Duomo that includes the stunningly beautiful Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Giotto’s Bell Tower, and the octagonal Baptistry with the famous “Gates of Paradise“.
Piazza della Repubblica
Piazza della Republicca has also a long history having first been a Roman forum. In the medieval times this square was as densely built over as the rest of Florence was. There was such a lack of available land for building houses that people started to build case-torri, or tower houses soaring upwards: medieval sky scrapers! Still, there was just enough room to include a market place, called the Mercato Vecchio, or the Old Market.
In 1885 during the brief time that Florence served as the capital of Italy, major overall improvements took place in Florence tearing down buildings of great importance, medieval towers, shops and residences to give rise to the middle class that was emerging prior to Italy’s unification. Many buildings were torn down in this piazza to broaden it. Also in celebration of Florence’s short stint as Italy’s capital, a triumphal arch was built on the piazza. An inscription on the arch clearly states the sentiments of Florence prior to the renovations: The ancient centre of the city / restored from age-old squalor / to new life
On top of an old salvaged column from the Old Market is the statue of Abundance.
For your shopping pleasure, there’s also a department store: Rinascente, a chain of Italian department stores equivalent to Macy’s.In The Video: There’s more to this department store than shopping! Come with me and I’ll show you in the video!
Piazza della Signoria
SeThis L-shaped square is named after Palazzo della Signoria, which has been renamed Palazzo Vecchio, or The Old Palace, by Cosimo di Medici.
This square dates back to the original Roman town of Florentia, and true to Ancient Roman tradition, it used to have a theater, baths, and workshops.
The square started to take its modern shape in 1268 after the political faction supporting the Pope defeated the political faction supporting the Holy Roman Emperor and left their houses in ruins. Over those ruins this piazza was built, and it has been the center of political and social life of the city for centuries.
Some religious events took place here too, like when Dominican priest and leader of Florence Girolamo Savonarola and his followers built a huge fire famously named the Bonfire of the Vanities where he urged people to burn their vanities: books, poetry, fancy clothes, mirrors, cosmetics, musical instruments, paintings he deemed immoral, and so on. Florence soon got fed up with him because of his opposition to trading and making money, created political and economic disasters. When a Franciscan priest allegedly challenged him to a trial by fire and he refused, he became public enemy #1 and was not only excommunicated by the Pope, but arrested on charges of heresies and false prophesies, and ultimately met his demise when executed in 1498 on same spot of his bonfire of Vanities.
Cosimo I also moved the seat of government from Palazzo Vecchio to the Uffizi, meaning the Offices. Although Palazzo Vecchio is now primarily museum and tourist attraction, it still remains the symbol of local government. Since 1872 it held the office of the mayor of Florence, and it’s the seat of the City Council.
In and around the square you’ll find the Loggia dei Lanzi, the Uffizi Gallery, and a copy of Michelangelo’s David along various other statues that turns this piazza into a free outdoor museum…or an assortment of naked statues of perfect physical specimen, some in very interesting arrangements.
In the Loggia dei Lanzi you’ll find Giambologna’s “The Rape of the Sabine Women“, Menelaus supporting the body of Patro-clus, “The Rape of Polyxena” and Benvenuto Cellini‘s Perseus with the Head of Medusa.
The name Loggia dei Lanzi goes back to Grand Duke Cosimo I in the 1500′s when it was used to house his German mercenary pikemen, the word Lanzi was the shortened version of their German name Landsknechts, I have no idea how to pronounce that, but translates to country servants.
In the piazza there’s a large bronze equestrian statue of Cosimo I also by Giambologna, and near by, a fountain of Neptune that bears the brunt of many jokes. Nearby is a copy of Donatello’s “Judith and Holofernes” “The Lion”, referred to as “il Marzocco” with a copy of the “Florentine Lily“, originally made by Donatello
But what the people REALLY come here to see is Michelangelo’s David…or rather, the copy of the original. David is more than just a legendary masterpiece; it came to symbolize the defense of civil liberties of Florence, an independent city state threatened by powerful rival states as well as the dominating Medici family.
If you notice David’s head and hands are slightly larger proportionally with his body, that’s because supposedly, David was intended to be placed on a high pedestal so that we’d be looking at up him, and Michelangelo created an illusion so the statue appears correct when viewed from far below.
In 1873 the original statue was moved to the Accademia Gallery in order to protect it from harsh elements. Nowadays, plans are considered to further insulate the statue from traffic and footstep vibrations that may cause future damage to the marble that’s already more fragile than other types of marble.
Uffizi is no longer a palace for offices for Florence’s magistrates, nor a private gallery for Medici’s huge art collection and commissions. When the Medici fell from political and economical power, it became one of the first modern museums. The gallery was first only open to visitors by request, but starting in 1765 it was officially open to the public.
Getting into the Uffizzi Gallery is another story. With lines hours long, your best bet is to either reserve a ticket in advance, either by phone or online, OR arrive here like 2 hours before the museum opens. Because they only allow a limited number of people at a time, the lines move horribly slow!
Why is that? The rooms in the museum are small, tons of art crammed in, and only a certain number of people can get in before they run out of oxygen! That’s my guess.
TIP: It is best to book your museum tickets in advance (below I provide a link for you to book your tickets online).
While here, you can relax and enjoy the piazza. There are plenty of sidewalk cafes with prime seats for optimal viewing of the world going by…but of course, at a prime cost. If the prices will send you into sticker shock, you can always buy a gelato or a snack from a nearby shop off the piazza, find a ledge to perch on, and enjoy! In the summer, the piazza not only gets mobbed with tourists, but it’s sweltering hot! In that case, plan your visit early in the morning when it’s cool outside, or later afternoon when most people are off eating dinner.
Evening time is also gorgeous in Piazza della Signoria, often with street musicians entertaining the crowds.
After finishing the tour, I realized how much of Florence we covered in such a short period of time….all thanks to the segway. That’s great for those who want to see Florence in a day without getting overly exhausted. I found the segway to be as easy to use… as walking…and much less painful on the feet. It was easy to maneouver in and around crowds, and safe in traffic. In my opinion, it sure beats going on walking tours of Florence!! You see more in less time and with much less effort!
Book your Uffizi Gallery or Accademia Gallery tickets in advance:
~ Snackbar Anna
Looking for Bagels and Coffee in Florence? This is the place for you!
Via dei Genori 26R
Exquisite hand crafted chocolates made on premises!
Via Ginori, 55/57r
Restaurant in Piazza della Repubblica
For those short on time or not up for the physical challenge of Do It Yourself travel, having the benefit of a private deluxe vehicle and personal driver at your disposal allows to make the most of your day, no worries of about transportation, and minimize walking from place to place. For larger groups up to 8 persons it can be a quite economical way to tour and sightsee in comfort.