Beauty and Brutality in Florence


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The murder of Girolamo Savonarola in the medieval Piazza della Signoria of Florence

The murder of Girolamo Savonarola in the medieval Piazza della Signoria of Florence

“The piazza is packedwith a rabble of poor, filthy peasants. The bell tolls nine, and the crowd’s attention focuses on three men. Having been victims of cruel degredation, they now stand in their under garments, ready to be strung up and burnt to death…”

If you were to take a trip back to medieval Florence, you may well have discovered something like this. It’s hard to believe that now, the very same Piazza is a place of beauty, which thousands of tourists flock to all year round.

The place in question is the Piazza della Signoria in Florence, which has been a fundamental feature of the city since the 14th century. This now beautiful and elegant square, dominated by the Palazzo della Signoria and home to the famous Uffizi Gallery, is a wonder to behold. But it wasn’t always like this. Named after a brothel and home to many undesirable people, this square was once the scene of an incredibly brutal event. In the centre of the piazza, you’ll find a marble inscription, commemorating the brutal hanging and burning of Girolamo Savonarola in 1498.

Having been named a heretic after his calls for Christian renewal and his claim that the clergy were corrupt, this radical leader met a grizzly end, as he was killed publicly in this grand piazza. Savonarola believed in a richer, more glorious Florence, and as part of his puritanical campaign, in 1497 burned thousands of ‘sinful’ objects, in what’s known as the ‘bonfire of the vanities’. This rather annoyed the pope, and also led to others turning against him, especially after his claim that he could perform miracles. So, he was condemned to a nasty death, and many Florentines sang and danced in delight as they watched him go up in flames. How thoughtful of them. However, despite the lack of support that he may have experienced at the end of his life, Savonarola spoke simply and passionately about his hatred of corruption and his ideas of faith. In fact, Martin Luther even praised him for his beliefs. Pity he met such a horrible end.

The grim story of Hannibal Lector makes a reference to this particular slice of history, talking about the ‘cruel spikes of the Signoria’ where Savonarola was hanged. Hannibal, in his later life, lives a quiet existence in Florence, and we see him navigate various parts of the city, including this famous Piazza.

Now, has this ghastly information stirred up some kind of morbid curiosity to pay a visit to the place where this horrible history happened? Yes? Well you’re in luck. With the “medieval Florence tour” of Caf Tours, you can discover both the beauty and brutality of Florence’s Piazza della Signoria. Hopefully a certain Mr Lector is lurking behind one of the statues…

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