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  • Writer's pictureBen West

A Brief History of Piazza della Repubblica in Florence

What is Piazza della Repubblica?

Piazza della Repubblica is a public square founded in antiquity that’s occupied by restaurants, hotels and street performers.

Piazza della Repubblica

Piazza della Repubblica History

The Piazza della Repubblica (or Republic Square) is one of the principal public spaces in Florence and has marked the centre of the city since Roman times. Part of it has always been used as a market, and the square is of central importance to the city politically, commercially and socially.

Numerous tales relating to Florence originate from this spot. According to one, in 1245 Saint Peter Martyr was attempting to preach to a great crowd when the devil, under the guise of a striking black horse, attempted to run wild through the market in order to crush the onlookers. Realising the imminent danger, Saint Peter raised his arm, making the sign of the cross in the direction of the wild horse, which stopped suddenly and then vanished on the spot.

Towards the centre of the square, you’ll see the Colonna dell’Abbondanza (or Column of Abundance), which marks the point where the ancient Roman forum stood. The present column dates from the 1430s, although the grey sandstone figure at its peak is a 20th-century copy of Giovan Battista Foggini’s statue of Abundance. The column once had a bell, which was rung whenever pickpockets were known to be in the square, warning people to watch out for their belongings.

During the medieval period, this area was densely populated with tightly packed streets and was the location of the Mercato Vecchio, the main market in the city, as well as the Jewish ghetto, which contained two synagogues and one narrow street with gates at either end. The piazza managed to retain its medieval appearance up until the 18th century, at which point the city council decided to widen the square and destroy the medieval workshops, towers, monuments, and churches.

In 1890, a monument featuring a bronze equestrian statue of Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of an independent and unified Italy, who gave the piazza its former name, was inaugurated. The statue was removed in the 1930s and placed in the Cascine Park, by the banks of the River Arno, and after the Second World War the name of the square was changed to Piazza della Repubblica.

Historic hangouts Cafés Gilli, Paszkowski and Giubbe Rosse, were popular with many of the city’s artists and writers in the past and remain on the square to this day. Ever lively, today the space is occupied by restaurants, hotels, street performers and a popular market selling antiques and leather goods. The square also has a wooden antique carousel dating from the early 20th century, painted in bright reds and blues with panels depicting different Italian cities, with 20 horses and two gilded royal carriages.

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