Piazza della Signoria is a splendid open-air museum in front of the Palazzo Vecchio. For centuries the square was the center of social and political life of Florence, and now it the center of art.
The Palazzo Vecchio (Old Palace) was originally called the Palazzo della Signoria and the square was named after it. The palace was the seat of the government of the republic, but after Cosimo I de` Medici had come to power all republican bodies of power were abolished. After that the palace was renamed but the square continued to bear the same name – the Piazza della Signoria.
In 15-16 centuries on the Piazza della Signoria there were placed a great number of statues of the great figures of the Italian Renaissance. The statues were so well grouped that the square may be rightly considered to be one of the most beautiful in the world.
The Bartolomeo Ammannati`s «Fountain of Neptune» is on the corner of the Palazzo Vecchio. The sculpture group was commissioned on the occasion of the wedding of Francesco I de` Medici, the second grand duke of the house of Medici ruling from 1574 until his death in 1587, with Johanna of Austria, the youngest daughter of Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor.
On September, 8 1504 the famous Michelangelo`s «David» was placed at the entrance of the Palazzo Vecchio on the Piazza della Signoria. The proportions of body rendered by the great sculptor were so beautiful that this statue became a symbol of the Italian Renaissance. Michelangelo created «David» at the age of 26. In 1873 the original statue was replaced by its replica, and the original was moved to the Fine Arts Academy Museum.
Loggia dei Lanzi has a special place on the Piazza della Signoria. It is located near the passage to the Uffizi Gallery. Loggia dei Lanzi was built between 1376 and 1382 to house the assemblies of the people and hold public ceremonies. Now the Loggia dei Lanzi is the museum of sculptures from the nearby Uffizi Gallery. In the center of the Loggia dei Lanzi one can see the bronze statue «Perseus with the head of Medusa» created by Benvenuto Cellini in 1545. It the only original statue on the Piazza Signoria, which they didn’t move to the indoor museum.
Besides, at the Loggia dei Lanzi, you can see the two wonderful works of Giovanni Giambologna: «The Rape of the Sabine Women» and «Heracles beating the Centaur Nessus», as well as the replicas of the antique sculptures «Menelaus supporting the body of Patroclus» and «The Rape of Polyxena».
In the western section of the Piazza della Signoria one can see the equestrian statue of the Duke Cosimo I de` Medici by Giambologna. In that section of the square one can also see the place where the Dominican friar and preacher Girolamo Savonarola was burned.
All main sights of Florence are at a walking distance from the Piazza della Signoria: Santa Maria della Fiore Cathedral and Santa Croce Basilica. If you cross the Arno river by the Ponte Vecchio, you may easily reach Palazzo Pitti and the Boboli Gardens.