The Pope’s present to Florence

Justice at the top of the Column

The eastern granite column of the Terme di Caracalla arrived in Piazza Santa Trinita on September 26, 1563. Cosimo I de ‘Medici had wanted it precisely in that spot, at the crossroads between via Tornabuoni, via delle Terme, and Borgo SS. Apostoli, on 2nd August 1554 he learned of the victory of Florence over Siena.

The Pope’s present

It is taller and more beautiful of the other Florentine columns. At the top of the column, a female figure carved in porphyry holds a scale to represent “Justice”.

Gift of Pius IV to Cosimo I, the large monolithic column, 11.17 meters high and weighing about 50 tons, arrived in Florence after a long and adventurous journey.

It left Rome in the summer of 1562 and, at a speed of 120 meters a day, arrived in Ostia after two months. Giorgio Vasari commanded the loading operations on a boat built for the occasion, and only in winter did the boat manage to reach the sea, towed by a galley. On the way he also had a collision with two Turkish privateers, arriving in Livorno in March 1563. Now all that remained was to take the Arno to get to Florence. The journey was interrupted, however, in Ponte a Signa due to the reduced flow of the river “in order not to be able to go further on Florence with the boat”.

It finally comes to Florence

Under the supervision of Bartolomeo Ammannati, towards the end of July, the column was harnessed in a wooden frame and, pulled by horses and oxen with specially made ropes and with the work of twenty workers, slowly continued its journey on the Pisana Road to arrive in Florence in September.

After more than a year of travel, the column finally arrived in Santa Triníta square…Shortly afterwards, six pieces of ancient porphyry also arrived in Florence, which were to be used to complete the column with a statue of Justice. The work was entrusted to Francesco Ferrucci, known as Tadda, who was a specialist in working with porphyry, a difficult and very hard material. It took eleven years to sculpt the statue by assembling the six pieces of porphyry together with metal pins. But it was not over: once it was standing, it was realized that the statue had small shoulders, especially when viewed from below. It was then decided to cover them with a fluttering bronze cloak. But “narrow-shouldered justice” (almost an allegorical figure, since even Cosimo’s justice was in many cases lacking) still had no peace. The bronze cloak unbalanced the statue and it was adjusted several times, rebalancing the scales … what justice would have been otherwise! ” (1) P. Bacci – Florence – Secrets, stories, mysteries, curiosities – Pontecorboli Editore Florence – 2000

Gems and jewels disappear from the shops on the Ponte Vecchio

Shortly after the inauguration of the Column of Justice, strange disappearances of precious stones began to occur from the jewelers’ shops of the Ponte Vecchio. Some boys, who used to play on the bridge, were accused of thefts and, although their guilt was never proven, they were forced not to come on the bridge again.

Despite this, the thefts of precious stones continued.

The truth was discovered only a few years later

Noticing how the scales were out of balance, it was ordered to provide for maintenance… On one of the plates a magpie had made his nest and there he had hidden all the glittering precious stones stolen from the goldsmiths of the Ponte Vecchio!

Justice was finally done.