The City’s Belly Button

Colonna dell’Abbondanza Today

The Colonna dell’Abbondanza (Column of Abundance) rising up in Piazza della Repubblica, represents the dead center of Florence and was the ancient “belly button” of the Roman Forum.

Like every other “castrum” in Roman times, Florence was in fact square; the northern side was formed by the present-day Via Cerretani and Piazza del Duomo, the eastern side by Via del Proconsolo, and the southern side by di Porta Rossa nd Via dell a Condotta, and the western side by Via Tornabuoni, with doors facing out from each of the four sides.  To the north there was Porta Aquilonia (now the beginning of Borgo San Lorenzo), to the east, Porta San Piero (the intersection of Via del Proconsolo and Via del Corso), to the south, Porta di Santa Maria (still today Por Santa Maria) and to the west, Porta San Pancrazio, or Brancazio, as it used to be “mispronounced” by the Florentines of that era (the intersection between Via Tornabuoni and Via Strozzi).

A main road leading up in a straight line from each door connected up to the door diametrically opposite.  The Cardo Maximum connected the city from the north to the south (the present-day Via Roma and Via Calimala), while the Decumanum Maximum connected it from east to west (Via Strozzi, Via degli Speziali, Via del Corso).  There was also a series of other minor poles and decumans parallel to the main ones that regulated the city from an urbanistic point of view and all formed a series of squares called “insole”, in other words, our present-day blocks.

The meeting point between the Cardo Maximum and the Decumanum Maximum represented the dead center of the city and it was right here that a propitious, auspicious column was erected, the magnetic pole of magical forces, the Colonna dell’Abbondanza, topped by a goddess holing a cornicopia, the symbol of prosperity and good fortune.

The “Forum” (the ancient Piazza del Mercato Vecchio, part of the present-day Piazza della Repubblica) spread out all around and represented the commercial, political and social heart of the city where the most important activities took place.

In the year 1431 a new column (with a statue by Donatello) was erected over the ruins of the original column from Caesar’s time, but unfortunately it was destroyed and the one you can see today dates back to the nineteen-fifties.

The column also marks the boundaries between the three Florentine quarters that lie on theis side of the River Arno, in other words, the Blues of Santa Croce, the Greens of San Giovanni, and the Reds of Santa Maria Novella, while the Whites of Santo Spirito have their territory on the other side of the river.

Ciarleglio, Franco. “The City’s Belly Button.” Strolling through Florence (Discovering the City’s Hidden Secrets). Trans. Susan Mary Cadby Berardi. Florence: Edizioni Tipografia Bertelli, 2003. 11-12. Print.

Map of Florence City Center showing the grids of the ancient Roman Castrum

The Reppublica Square around 1883