By the late thirteenth century, plans were in motion for an even bigger keep. By 1299, the first stone was laid, several years after construction started of the Duomo. Work on the cathedral was halted and the builders were reassigned to the Piazza della Signoria. Priority was given to what the governing bodies deemed important. The new palace was constructed in a rapid pace. It took only fifteen years to complete it. If we go by Vasari, the architect was the same one who had made the walls of Florence and the first design for the Duomo. Arnolfo di Cambio. The palace received several expansions over time towards the Via dei Leoni by architects like Cronaco, Battista del Tasso and Ammanati.
As was custom for that time, the layout was in alignment with the building line of the street. The foundations of the old tower on the west side were used for the new campanile. The palace resembles a sleek, rising block with bifore windows and rustication across the entire facade. Above the first two floors is a parapet that protrudes from the bottom large block. The new tower rises harmoniously from the parapet. Atop the tower, a bell frame was placed on columns that is reminiscent of a canopy, but one with a marvellous viewpoint with sturdy parapets and battlements. From here, you could see the enemy coming from miles away.
The Palazzo della Signoria has all the hallmarks of Florentine city castles, like:
1. Rustication as if they were rough stones from which an authentic keep is erected.
2. A rectangular layout with a centre courtyard.
3. A cornice to separate the floors
4. A strongly overhanging ballatoio with battlements.
5. Bifore windows.
6. A clocktower.
Originally, the main entrance was found on the northside, because here used to be a square. From the Via dei Cerchi you would directly approach the entrance. The windows at the entrance were placed symmetrically and the door is exactly in the middle.
Piazza della Signoria
The first building plot came from the Uberti family. They were followers of the Ghibelines. This group comprised the old nobility who had moved to the city, but still erected a casa torre (residential tower like the Torre della Castagna) to protect their family. These residential towers would later give rise to palazzi. The Ghibelines would later be defeated by the Guelphs in 1250. The Guelphs were traders with significant investments in the city. In 1268, after a treacherous rebellion of the Ghibelines, the land of the Uberti’s was confiscated and their palace left in ruins.
The family was banned from Florence. The plot of land of the Uberti family was paved and that is how the current Piazza della Signoria started out. Piece by piece, more land was procured, houses torn down and a sizeable square arose on the west side. The Piazza della Signoria largely received its current shape around 1356.
On the west side of the square, straight across from the current entrance was a small row of houses that were all but impressive. A wall was erected right in front of these homes to make the square ‘look as desirable as possible’. What’s more, the Via Cerchi and Via dei Calzaiuoli were widened. The new cardo that went from the Duomo to the Palazzo della Signoria (Baldassare Lanci Via dei Calzaiuoli new cardo). Several houses had to be demolished to do this. And all this just to make the square look nicer for the passer-by.
Naturally, the tower was to be given the largest clock. The very best bronze caster was hired to do just that. His name was Lando di Pietro, from Siena. The clock was named the ‘lion’. The lion was the symbol of Florence and represented the proud and independent Republic of Florence. Since the thirteenth century, lions were caged at the Commune’s expense; first in the Bigallo across from the Baptistery and later at the Palazzo della Signoria. Donatello also made a lion, albeit from stone.
When Florence became a Duchy under Cosimo I in 1540, the ‘lion’ is removed from the clocktower. The largest clock is destroyed. This was to set an example, so the citizens knew who ruled the city from now on. The lion cage is also removed, allegedly because Cosimo could not stand the smell of these predators. In addition, Cosimo commissioned Giambologna to make an equestrian statue of him. Such a statue, long used to depict rulers, was purposely placed on the Piazza Vecchio.
The city board also needed a place to make important announcement or hold speeches. To do this, a ringhiera was constructed at the west side of the palace in 1323 (F. Granacci, Portrait of a Man in Armour, detail National Gallery). A ringhiera was a stone, raised platform that served as a lectern for orators. Under Napoleon’s rule in 1812 the ringhiera was torn down.
The ringhiera proved insufficient rather quickly. It offered little protection against the elements, and worse, each orator seemed puny compared to the enormous rustication wall. The city board decided to erect a better alternative, and this became the covered Loggia dei Lanzi. The masons and builders of the Opera del Duomo constructed the gallery.