During Roman times, the Piazza della Repubblica (Republic Square) was the ancient center of Florence, the site of the forum. As of the Middle Ages and for several centuries thereafter, it remained the “old” city market.
Around it were built a dense network of narrow streets and alleys. In these streets stood the houses of certain ancient Florentine families (the Medici, Brunelleschi, Castiglioni, etc..), twenty-four medieval towers, churches, chapels, lodges, and places belonging to the Guild of Florence.
In the Middle Ages, the area was densely populated. For instances, the chroniclers tell us that before the implementation of the fifth circle of city walls, there was no room for pasturage or gardens, with the tower-houses occupying all the space.
Although it has undergone many changes over time, the Piazza della Repubblica was very lively and busy, until recently. Cosimo I forced the Jews to reside in that area of the city, which thus became a ghetto known as the Jewish Quarter.
Between 1885 and 1895, the old market and the district were destroyed, officially for health and safety reasons, but more likely to add prestige to the city, a common occurence at that time.
The changes were part of urban planning that resulted from the establishment of Florence as the capital of the Kingdom of Italy (1865-1871). Consequently, many buildings, including the ones forming the ghetto and the Loggia del Pesce (Lodge of the Fish) by Vasari (rebuilt in via Pietrapiana) were demolished.
The famous Colonna dell’Abbondanza (Column of Abundance), which marked the intersection of the Roman chariots, was also brought down. On top of this column was once a statue sculpted by Donatello; however, the statue was destroyed and subsequently replaced.
Today, Piazza della Repubblica consists of a large square surrounded by porticoes with an “arcone” (triumphal arch), bearing an inscription commemorating the old neighborhood.
On the arcone was once an allegorical group in plaster of three women, meant to symbolize Italy, Art and Science. However the Florentines ironically nicknamed them after three famous prostitutes from that time. The group was removed in 1904.
In 1956, the Colonna dell’Abbondanza was once again erected in the square and to this day marks the center of the ancient Roman city. Since the end of the nineteenth century, the square has served as a place of gathering for Florentines and foreigners alike; through its many cafes, famous artists and writers met there in the past.
Pictures by Wikimedia, aldoaldoz and yourflorence