Piazza della Repubblica ☆☆☆

Piazza della Repubblica, Florence, Italy (Photo by Txllxt TxllxT)

Elegant 19th century cafes and modern bookshops on an expansive square

As you wander Florence, you'll undoubtedly stumble across this large pedestrian square with a small carousel in the middle, its sides lined by shops and classy 19th century cafes.

How Piazza della Repubblica got made

This was originally the site of the forum (main square) for the ancient Roman settlement of Fiorentina.

By 1571 it had become the city's Jewish ghetto—meaning it was the one part of town where Jews were allowed to live.

It also housed loads of non-Jewish homes, churches, medieval craft guild headquarters, and the central marketplace—which in the 16th century became the Mercato Vecchio ("old market") after the Mercato Nuovo ("new market") was built a few blocks south.

In a fit of enlightenment and equality during the Italian Unification movement in the 1860s—while Florence was, briefly, serving as the capital of the new Kingdom of Italy—the Jews were given leave to live where they wanted and, in an act that may seem a bit odd but was well-intentioned, the city started a 30-year project to raze the ghetto to the ground in an attempt to modernize and sanitize the city by making the modern piazza.

(I've always wondered how those 1860s Jews felt, being told they were now free to go anywhere... they just couldn't stay in the neighborhood where, for good or ill, their ancestors had been forced to live for centuries. For the record, Jewish life in Florence now centers around the 19th century Synagogue in the Santa Croce district.)

The piazza today

All this explains why such a large piazza in an otherwise Renaissance-obsessed city is today hemmed in by grandiose late-19th century buildings, their ground floors occupied either by shop-filled loggias or by Belle Époque cafes of high ceilings, chandeliers, tiny tables, and bow-tied waiters.

Caffè Gilli is where the dreamers of the Risorgimento unification movement once met; Caffè Giubbe Rosse, with its namesake red-tuxedoed waiters, is where the Futurists and literary types once met. Both are pretty, but way overpriced,

The only thing the centuries have left (sort of) intact from the original square is the Column of Abundance stuck in the northeast corner.

(For the record, this column, topped by a gray statue of "Abundance," is actually a 1956 replica of the much-deteriorated 1721 version, which itself replaced the lost 1431 original by Donatello.)

Even though the column is stuck in the corner of the piazza, it's actually not off-center. The piazza is.

The column marks the exact center of the original Roman city of Fiorentina, the spot where the original Cardo Maximus (the "Main Street" of any Roman city, running north-south; today it's called Via Roma/Via Calimala) crossed the original Decamanus Maximus (the main east-west street; today's Via del Corso/Via degli Speziali/Via degli Strozzi).

There's also a lovely merry-go-round (carousel).

Photo gallery
  • , Piazza della Repubblica, Italy (Photo by Txllxt TxllxT)
  • The piazza as seen from the top of Giotto
  • The carousel, Piazza della Repubblica, Italy (Photo by Michelle Maria)
  • , Piazza della Repubblica, Italy (Photo by Gianni Careddu)
  • Piazza della Repubblica on Sept. 20, 1890, Piazza della Repubblica, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • A model of Roman-era Fiorentina, showing the Forum—which is now Piazza della Repubblica, Piazza della Repubblica, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
  • The old Ghetto and market (which would become the piazza) are shown on the right side of the middle (the church with the Fish Market loggia in front of it and the block of buildings immediately to its left) of this drawing of Florence as it was in 1594 by, Piazza della Repubblica, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Mercato Vecchio before 1881, Torre dei Caponsacchi, Piazza della Repubblica, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • The Loggia del Pesche (fish market) at the Mercato Vecchio, before 1880, Piazza della Repubblica, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • The Old Market, Piazza della Repubblica, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Piazza della Repubblica before the 19C changes, a painting by Stradanus (late 16C), Piazza della Repubblica, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Il Mercato Vecchio (The Old Market) ca. 1885, Piazza della Repubblica, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Demolition of the Loggia del Pesche (fish market) at the Mercato Vecchio, 1880s, Piazza della Repubblica, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • The Old Market in 1898, soon after demolition, Piazza della Repubblica, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
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How long does Piazza della Repubblica take?

Other than hanging out at a cafe, visiting the excellent Red Fletrinelli mega-bookstore under the arcades on the west side, or popping into Florence's main post office in the square's southwest corner, there's no overt reason to come here, though you will likely pass through at some point.

Useful Italian phrases

Useful Italian for sightseeing

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is?... Dov'é doh-VAY
...the museum il museo eel moo-ZAY-yo
...the church la chiesa lah key-YAY-zah
...the cathedral il duomo [or] la cattedrale eel DUO-mo [or] lah cah-the-DRAH-leh
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
Closed day giorno di riposo JOR-no dee ree-PO-zo
Weekdays (Mon-Sat) feriali fair-ee-YA-lee
Sunday & holidays festivi fe-STEE-vee
ticket biglietto beel-YET-toh
two adults due adulti DOO-way ah-DOOL-tee
one child un bambino oon bahm-BEE-no
one student uno studente OO-noh stu-DENT-ay
one senior un pensionato oon pen-see-yo-NAH-toh

Basic phrases in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
How much is it? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
Excuse me (to get past someone) Permesso pair-MEH-so
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...the bathroom il bagno eel BHAN-yoh
...train station la ferroviaria lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
information informazione in-for-ma-tzee-OH-nay

Days, months, and other calendar items in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
At what time... a che ora a kay O-rah
Yesterday ieri ee-YAIR-ee
Today oggi OH-jee
Tomorrow domani doh-MAHN-nee
Day after tomorrow dopo domani DOH-poh doh-MAHN-nee
a day un giorno oon je-YOR-no
Monday Lunedí loo-nay-DEE
Tuesday Martedí mar-tay-DEE
Wednesday Mercoledí mair-coh-lay-DEE
Thursday Giovedí jo-vay-DEE
Friday Venerdí ven-nair-DEE
Saturday Sabato SAH-baa-toh
Sunday Domenica doh-MEN-nee-ka
Mon-Sat Feriali fair-ee-YAHL-ee
Sun & holidays Festivi feh-STEE-vee
Daily Giornaliere joor-nahl-ee-YAIR-eh
a month una mese oon-ah MAY-zay
January gennaio jen-NAI-yo
February febbraio feh-BRI-yo
March marzo MAR-tzoh
April aprile ah-PREEL-ay
May maggio MAH-jee-oh
June giugno JEW-nyoh
July luglio LOO-lyoh
August agosto ah-GO-sto
September settembre set-TEM-bray
October ottobre oh-TOE-bray
November novembre no-VEM-bray
December dicembre de-CHEM-bray

Numbers in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 uno OO-no
2 due DOO-way
3 tre tray
4 quattro KWAH-troh
5 cinque CHEEN-kway
6 sei say
7 sette SET-tay
8 otto OH-toh
9 nove NO-vay
10 dieci dee-YAY-chee
11 undici OON-dee-chee
12 dodici DOH-dee-chee
13 tredici TRAY-dee-chee
14 quattordici kwa-TOR-dee-chee
15 quindici KWEEN-dee-chee
16 sedici SAY-dee-chee
17 diciasette dee-chee-ya-SET-tay
18 diciotto dee-CHO-toh
19 diciannove dee-chee-ya-NO-vay
20 venti VENT-tee
21* vent'uno* vent-OO-no
22* venti due* VENT-tee DOO-way
23* venti tre* VENT-tee TRAY
30 trenta TRAYN-tah
40 quaranta kwa-RAHN-tah
50 cinquanta cheen-KWAN-tah
60 sessanta say-SAHN-tah
70 settanta seh-TAHN-tah
80 ottanta oh-TAHN-tah
90 novanta no-VAHN-tah
100 cento CHEN-toh
1,000 mille MEEL-lay
5,000 cinque milla CHEEN-kway MEEL-lah
10,000 dieci milla dee-YAY-chee MEEL-lah

* You can use this formula for all Italian ten-place numbers—so 31 is trent'uno, 32 is trenta due, 33 is trenta tre, etc. Note that—like uno (one), otto (eight) also starts with a vowel—all "-8" numbers are also abbreviated (vent'otto, trent'otto, etc.).