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Piazza della Signoria in Florence: the Fountain of Neptune

The Piazza della Signoria with the impressive Fountain of Neptune, also called “Il Biancone” is and always was the hart of Florence.

The Piazza della Signoria with the impressive Fountain of Neptune, also called “Il Biancone” is and always was the hart of Florence. The square is shaped like an L and was named after it’s most famous bordering building, the Palazzo della Signoria, now a day called Palazzo Vecchio. It is a focal point in Florentine history because it was here that the Florentine Republic took its origin in 1115 after a rebellion of the Florentine people against the authorities.

A guided city tour explains all the numerous historic and artistic details of the square, the bordering buildings, the Fountain of Neptune and other attractions close by like the Ponte Vecchio, the Piazza del Duomo and the Uffizi Gallery. If you want to take part in a guided city tour, click here.

In 1559 Cosimo de’ Medici, the grand duce of Florence, announced a competition for artists to win the chance to design the very first public fountain in Florence. The most famous artists of the time like Benvenuto Cellini, Baccio Bandinelli and Giambologna took part in the competition. Of all submitted proposals the one of Bartolomeo di Ammannati was chosen, because his Neptune, the Greek god of the ocean, in Cosimo’s eyes was the most suitable symbol for his successful fleet conquering the arch-enemy Pisa and at the same time a proper allusion to the foundation of the order of Saint Stephan with the purpose to fight the Turks in the Mediterranean to obtain free transport routs for trade and commerce.

By constructing the new fountain on the west edge of the Palazzo Vecchio, Cosimo separated the Piazza in too areas. To provide the fountain with water it was necessary to lay a water pipe all the way from the source of Ginevra downwards into the valley crossing the today’s Ponte alle Grazie up to the Piazza Peruzzi and to finally arrive at the Piazza della Signoria.

Ammannati worked on the central statue of the fountain, the Neptune, in the years between 1560 and 1565. The figure is made from white marble from Carrara and it’s facial features remind strongly of Cosimo. The statue rises on a pedestal, which is decorated with the sea monsters from the Greek mythology Scylla and Charybdis and is surrounded by an octagonal basin. Some of the best sculptors of the city worked together for more then 10 years to model the basin.  

At Neptune’s feet you can find three amphibians that play on water spitting flutes. According to Greek mythology amphibians were seen as Neptune’s sons. Other then that they were also seen as the gods of the rivers. Usually they were portrayed with their upper body parts of a human being and their lower body parts of a fish. The basin includes also the 4 horses of Neptune pulling a wagon. On the wheels of the wagon you can see the signs of zodiac, which symbolize the passage of the time. On the edges of the basin you can recognize other gods from the Greek mythology, the sea gods Thetis, Doris, Oceanus and Nereus.

During Carnival in 1830 one of the statues of the fountain, a Satyr made by the sculptor Giambologna, was stolen. The thieves took advantage of the carnival season. First they danced around the fountain and the statue then they dressed it up and took it with them. Until today nobody knows where the statue is. It is very likely, that it was brought abroad. In 1831 the Milanese artist Francesco Pozzi was asked to remodel the statue. This was not the only time that the fountain was a victim of vandalism: from 1580 on it was used as a trough to do laundry until in 1592 a fence was build around it to protect it from too ambitious laundresses. When the Bourbons bombed the city in 1848, some cannonballs damaged the statue of Neptune. The last sad episode of vandalism happened in 2005, when vandals climbed on Neptune, ripped off one of his hands and damaged the pool beneath.

To take part in a tour around the Piazza della Signoria with an expert guide or further information please contact our office under the number +39 055 2670402 or click here.

 



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