Piazza Della Signoria

Jamesvansteel By Jamesvansteel, 24th Sep 2014 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Diaries

A reflection on the purpose of public space for and the formation of a sense of self as seen in Florentine city planning.

Piazza Della Signoria

During the three weeks I spent in Florence my roommates and I were assigned an apartment just north of the historic Piazza Della Signoria. This public square is a large open space surrounded by shops, restaurants, ancient buildings and breathtaking statuary of immense historical significance. The piazza dates back to the town’s inception as the Roman Colony Florentia and has remained the center of political life in the city, housing the famous Palazzo Vecchio or Palazzo Della Signoria. Here the heart of republican Florence pulsed and came alive, driven by the voices of the people, the causes and ambitions of the noble, and the tumult and prosperity of a millennium of politics and warfare.

By the end of my trip the piazza seemed almost ordinary, a general gathering space filled with bustling tourists, garbage trucks, fastidious waiters with overpriced lattes shuffling about, and a grand bell tower keeping watch high over the city. The space remains, as it probably always has been, very functional. Rather than some sacred space, consecrated for the government and noble elite to dictate life to the people, the idea of the piazza is decidedly democratic. It is the everyday citizen and his concerns that drive the life of the republic, developing society and potentiating the great deeds that have become the historical focus of Florence. The wills of the Medici and Machiavelli, Duke and pope must accommodate the needs and even the desires of the masses in a reciprocal relationship of social stability and prosperity.

On the feast day of St. John the Baptist, patron saint of Florence, the piazza Della Signoria manifested this vibrant social and community life so characteristic of its republican roots and historical emphasis on the common person. A parade of incredible pride and pageantry, displaying the traditions and history as well as the current vitality and fraternity of Florence’s urban quarters began in the piazza among throngs of onlookers. Regalia, weaponry, musical instruments, pomp and circumstance all combined into a colorful and memorable celebration of free life and centuries of culture brought about by Florence’s political and individual achievements.

Reflecting on this space, used as easily throughout the years for vending sandwiches as for the public execution of Savonarola, the idea of “the public” has begun to take on a fuller meaning for me. The idea of the piazza is not only a crude convention of time and space allowing men to gather and relate, but it is an idea itself and one that is vital to any republican society. More than a physical space, a republic requires a forum of ideas, a means and encouragement for communication of all kinds and on all topics. Without such an opportunity and indeed a tradition of interconnection and association, the isolated and disenfranchised people of Florence would easily succumb to corruption, servility, cultural stagnation and even decay. Thankfully the free exchange and development of ideas in a visible sphere, available and conspicuous to all, has allowed the minds of men to serve greater purposes of collaboration, union, discourse, debate, and education, all vital to the incredible achievements of the cities’ greatest men and women. It is in the world’s piazze that an individual creates and shares his meaning.

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