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The L-shaped Piazza della Signoria may very well be the world’s most beautiful city square. It is surrounded by several important buildings, including Palazzo degli Uffizi, the oldest art museum in the world, and Palazzo Vecchio, the former palace of the Medicis. This immensely wealthy banking family left a huge mark on the city-state of Florence during the three centuries that the family reigned. A replica of Michelangelo’s David stands just outside the door.
Palazzo Vecchio is also flanked by the colossal 16th century Fountain of Neptune by Ammanati and the equally enormous replicas of Donatello’s bronze Judith & Holofernes and Bandinelli’s marble Hercules & Cacus. The benches in the 14th-century Loggia dei Lanzi are a favourite resting spot for tourists, with statues of Perseus, The Rape of Polyxena and The Rape of the Sabines. It’s a genuine open-air museum.
The most beautiful man in the world is 500 years old, 5 metres tall, weighs 5,500 kilos and had black dirt under his fingernails. David was filthy. So, for his 500th birthday, he received the wonderful gift of an extensive scrub treatment. The statue carved by Michelangelo out of an immense block of marble in the early 16th century was last cleaned in 1843, using a couple of buckets of hydrochloric acid. This did not only remove the dirt and grime, but also the top layer Michelangelo used to protect David. The washing was counterproductive, as grime was able to penetrate into the marble pores afterwards. David became blacker and blacker while standing on his pedestal on Piazza della Signoria.
In 1873, the Galleria dell’Accademia was built especially for David. The original statue was moved indoors and a replica was placed on the pedestal on Piazza della Signoria. This was a good thing because he had suffered enough. In 1512, 8 years after David was placed on his pedestal in front of Palazzo Vecchio, lightning struck his curly head and, in 1527, he broke his left arm during an uprising and his right middle finger in the early 19th century. Finally, a disturbed man used a sledgehammer to crush the left big toe of the replica in 1991.
But it could’ve been worse: vandals broke off the penis of a copy of the famous statue in the American town of Willow Glen. The real David in Florence still has his, but it has a curious size: 16 centimetres is not much for a man 5 metres in height.
The most famous and most recognisable square in Florence, Piazza della Signoria, has been a prominent location in many films. In A Room with a View, based on the book by E.M. Forster, a romantic holiday is abruptly shortened by a stabbing at the Neptune Fountain and, in Hannibal, the sequel to The Silence of the Lambs, serial killer Hannibal Lecter hides out in Florence. He pushes the corrupt detective Pazzi off the balcony of Palazzo Vecchio with a rope around his neck right in front of a crowd of tourists.