The splendid Piazza della Signoria first began to take shape in 1268, when the Guelfi family took over the city of Florence and decided to pull down all their rival’s houses, the Ghibellinis.
The first buildings to be razed to the ground were the Foraboschi and Uberti towers.
In the end, no less than 36 buildings were demolished, and this “cancellation” of enemies, (buildings would no longer be allowed on those areas) gave the square its particular “L” shape and is the reason for the non-alignment of the surrounding buildings. The square was not paved until 1385.
The square became the centre of Florentine political life with the construction of Palazzo della Signoria, completed in 1302 by Arnolfo di Cambio, as the seat of the republican government.
Also under the Medici family, with Duke Cosimo I who lived there from 1540 to 1565, Palazzo della Signoria was to remain the hub of the city’s political life.
On 23rd May, 1498 Girolamo Savonarola was burnt at the stake as a heretic in Piazza della Signoria, in front of the fountain of Neptune, on the spot now marked by a commemorative plate set in the paving.
The square is an open air museum: to the south there is the square containing the Uffizi, nearby the Loggia dei Lanzi with its vaulted ceiling beneath which there are 15 statues including Cellini’s Perseus holding the head of Medusa. All the statues in the square are of infinite beauty: the Fountain of Neptune by Ammannati, the statue of Cosimo I on horseback by Giambologna and the copy of Michelangelo’s David.
In the XIV century the Loggia della Signoria was added for public ceremonies, and the Court of the Merchants for trade disputes.
The square is surrounded by beautiful buildings, such as Palazzo Uguccioni dating back to the 1500s and the Assicurazioni Generali premises, built in 1871 in Renaissance style, on the spot where St. Cecily’s church once stood. Archaeological excavations have revealed the remains of Roman Florence beneath the Medieval houses, including Roman baths and a cloth dying workshop.