Piazza della Repubblica


The new exhibition in the Palazzo Vecchio called 'Traces of Florence' has a selection of paintings, engravings and drawings illustrating what this part of the city looked like throughout its history.
Opening hours: April-September daily 9am-midnight except Thursday 9am-2pm. Winter months daily 9am-7pm except Thursday 9am-2pm. Extended opening for public holidays except closed Christmas Day.

Admission: Free entrance


Florence was founded in Roman times by Julius Caesar, establishing the fortress town for his veteran soldiers in 59 BC and naming it Florentia, the “flourishing one". Piazza della Repubblica is on the very site where the heart of the ancient Roman Florentia lay.

You can still see the remnants of the straight, grid-like Roman streets, but barely a whisper of the Old Market, Mercato Vecchio, of medieval Florence, torn down in the 19th century. The only thing left is the column, which pin-points the exact heart of the city, the centre of Roman Florence, and carries the figure of Abbondanza (Abundance) who watched over the stalls and goings-on of the market.

During the Middle Ages – a period that covers from the fall of Rome in the 5th century to the Renaissance in the 15th century – the site of Piazza della Repubblica was the commercial heart of Florence, the site of the Old Market. The Mercato Vecchio quickly became a flourishing and bustling meeting place and important commercial centre, attracting Florentines and travelling merchants alike, selling fruit and vegetables, silk, wool and spices on their way to or from the trade routes out of Venice and Rome. Thrown into the mix were also animals of all sorts, from falcons to wild boars, and medieval “fast food” - onion tarts and deep fried herbs.

The area was quite different to its current elegant self. While you're sipping a coffee at the stylish Paszkowski cafe, still in the spot where they started as a Polish beer factory on the edge of the Jewish ghetto, try to imagine the dense, narrow medieval streets and towers built one on top of the other to fit in the ever-growing population of Florence. Imagine the mix of crowded noisy streets full of animals, market-goers, vendors and even prostitutes, who were obliged to walk about with gloves and bells on to distinguish themselves.

Midway between Piazza Repubblica  and the Ponte Vecchio is the Loggia del Porcellino, that used to be called the Mercato Nuovo, “new market”, a market since the 16th century. As the Mercato Vecchio, “old market”, in what is now Piazza Repubblica was the ordinary people's market, the new market was intended to sell sought-after luxury goods like silk and gold, for the wealthy and upper classes.

The area has for centuries been the heart of the shopping district in Florence, with the bankers concentrated around the Mercato Nuovo, making money readily available through the Florentine inventions of the letter of credit and the florin, the first internationally accepted currency, while the retail shops of the silk guild, goldsmiths, embroiderers and upholsterers in via Por Santa Maria heading towards the Ponte Vecchio beckoned shoppers. By 1421, the Mercato Nuovo had 72 banks and by 1474, the silk guild had grown to 84 shops in the area. By this time the Florentines had created a vast network of agents and banks across Europe, North Africa and the Middle East that no other city could match.

Later on, in the 19th century, when straw hats were all the rage in Europe, the Mercato Nuovo became known as the “straw market” for the roaring trade of Leghorn straw hats from the Tuscan port city of Livorno.

The lively market, which now sells mostly leather bags and belts, hats, scarves and knick-knacks, complete with porcellino fountain (from which the name pig market), inspired a dramatic and dark scene in Ridley Scott's Hannibal, largely filmed in Florence. A visit in the evening to the loggia reveals a very different atmosphere without the market stalls. The central pietra dello scandalo can be properly seen then – the spot in the middle of the loggia used for humiliating debtors and dishonest merchants was also the site of sentences of capital punishment, usually to do with commerce-related crimes, as well as a dramatic, Romeo and Juliet-style family feud duel to the death in 1600.