The Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence is a good starting point for those who come to this beautiful city in search of beauty itself. This, after all, is the city where the French writer Stendhal felt so overwhelmed by beauty that he became physically ill – a phenomenon later known as Stendhal syndrome.
The Loggia dei Lanzi is a grand, open-air foyer dating back to the 14th Century and located just a few metres away from the world-famous Uffizi galleries, and the monumental Palazzo Vecchio. The building is striking, with great arches and high ceilings that dwarf even the monumental statues housed within it. The loggia is named with reference to the fact that this was previously the home of the mercenary pikemen employed by the Grand Duke of the era, Cosimo I.
We stumbled across this place late one January evening, having just arrived in the city. The stillness and silence of the place, of these perfect marble sculptures in the wet winter air, seemed almost surreal. In contrast to the daytime, the loggia is largely deserted during winter nights.
The sculptures on display are exquisite – from the lions that symbolise the Medici dynasty to the colossal Roman sculpture of Menelaus gripping the body of his dying comrade Patroclus. On show is also the famous Cellini work showing Perseus gripping the head of Medusa. This sculpture took him 10 years to finish, and he reportedly came close to death due to the struggle for his creation.
But if Gusto Guides had to choose one favourite work, we would probably pick the Rape of the Sabines, representing the legendary theft of the women of the Sabine tribe by early Roman colonists, by the 16th-Century sculptor Giambologna. One of the most technically challenging sculptures ever created, the viewer is impelled to walk around the work and follow the drama of the scene unfolding in a helix of marble.
It’s also important to mention the works that litter the square just beyone the Loggia dei Lanzi, including the Heracles by Bandinelli, also dating back to the 16th Century, or the monumental Neptune, who presides over the Piazza della Signoria from atop a fountain.
If you have chance, go there. Go late. And linger.