Piazza della Signoria and Girolamo Savonarola: a sad chapter in the history of Florence


posted by on Curiosities, History & Culture, Symbols


Wandering in Piazza della Signoria is a full immersion in the past of Florence.

The Fountain of Neptune

The political message of Cosimo I the Medici shaped the square in which the imposing Palazzo Vecchio (the Old Palace) stands since 1299.
But this lively square hides a sad chapter in the history of Florence..

A view of the Palazzo Vecchio from the Loggia dei Lanzi

After the Medici family was evicted from the city in 1494, the Dominican preacher Girolamo Savonarola gained an increasing power. Born in Ferrara in 1452, Savonarola became prior of San Marco monastery in Florence preaching against the tyranny of the powerful and the corruption of the Church. He had a theocratic form of government and he promoted the construction of the Salone dei 500 (Hall of the five-hundreds) in the Palazzo Vecchio, which hosted the council of citizens.

The stunning Hall of the Five-Hundreds

Even the educated humanists of the time supported him, such has Marsilio Ficino. It is accounted that Sandro Botticelli, the painter of The Birth of Venus that we can admire at the Uffizi museum was enchanted by the friar’s sermons, renouncing nude figures in his works of art and even destroying some of his paintings during the ‘Bonfire of Vanities‘, a pyre put up in the Signoria square in which all mundane objects were burnt. Guardians of moral started controlling the streets, people had to behave to avoid the chastisement of God.

A wonderful view of Florence Cathedral from Palazzo Vecchio patrol path

The atmosphere in Florence had become suffocating: for the pleasure-loving Florentines the friar had gone too far. After the pope Alexander VI excommunicated Savonarola for heresy, he was imprisoned in the ‘Alberghetto‘ in the Palazzo Vecchio, a small room in the tower of the Old Palace, that you can visit as a ‘breathing stop’ while climbing it.

He had a trial and was condemned to death. On the 23rd of May 1498 Savonarola was hanged and burnt at the stake in the Signoria square with two other Dominican friars. Their ashes were scattered in the Arno river to prevent people from taking relics, but the day after, the place where the funeral pyre stood was covered by flowers. This was an homage from the people who loved the friar’s preaching, who is still commemorated with the feast called ‘Fiorita‘, held on the 23rd of May.

Palazzo Vecchio at Sunset

If you want to discover more about Savonarola and the Palazzo Vecchio, join one of the following tours:

Palazzo Vecchio and its Battlements Guided Tour with Spectacular View from the Top at Sunset

Palazzo Vecchio Secret Passages Guided Tour

Palazzo Vecchio and Piazza Signoria with Loggia dei Lanzi Guided Tour

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