Historic and political heart of medieval and Renaissance Florence , Piazza della Signoria is one of the most beautiful squares in Italy. In the period of the Communes, the square was created to a much smaller size than its present dimensions. Nowadays this splendid, picturesque square is dominated by the huge Palazzo Vecchio, a severe, small fortress of three storeys with rusticated walls. The building has elegant Gothic two-light windows, crowned by a high gallery with crenellation, loopholes and machicolations, it culminates in a tall, slender tower built between 1310 and 1314. Building was started in 1299 by Arnolfo di Cambio for the Priors of the Arts, so that the structure was known as the Palazzo dei Priori. In the fifteenth century, the majestic building was the headquarters of the government of the Republic and assuming the name of palazzo della Signoria. Later, in the sixteenth century, it became the splendid residence Grand Duke Cosimo I, who entrusted its enlargement to the architect Giorgio Vasari. When the grand ducal family moved to its new home in Palazzo Pitti, the building, finally, took the name of Palazzo Vecchio. The Loggia della Signoria also faces on to the square, it is also known as the Loggia dei Lanzi, because at the time of Alessandro I de' Medici, it housed the Lanzichenecchi, or the Loggia dell'Orcagna, from the nickname given to Andrea di Cione, the architect who conceived the design. In fact, the building is Gothic-Renaissance style and was built by Simone di Francesco Talenti and Benci di Cione between 1376 and 1382, as the official offices for the ceremonies of the signoria. There are many fine statues contained within the round arches of the building¿s three arcades, among them a colossal bronze portraying Perseus, the exquisite work of Benvenuto Cellini, sculpted between 1545 and 1554, and the admirable marble group of the Rape of the Sabine Women, created in 1583 by Giambologna. Giambologna was also the creator of the interesting equestrian monument of Cosimo I de' Medici, located at the north side of the Palazzo Vecchio, and of the lovely Neptune fountain, built together with Bartolomeo Ammannati to celebrate the maritime ambitions of the Grand Duchy. An authentic open air art gallery, the fine square also contains the reproductions of magnificent sculptures, including the Marzocco: the heraldic Florentine lion. This original of this symbol of the city by Donatello is now preserved in the Bargello Museum, while the original of the bronze group with Judith and Holofernes by Donatello, is exhibited in the sumptuous Hall of the Lilies in Palazzo Vecchio. The original of the famed marble David, sculpted by Michelangelo between 1501 and 1504, stands on display in the Galleria dell'Accademia. Finally, facing the lavish Piazza della Signoria, among elegant, sumptuous old buildings, like the medieval Mercatanzia Court of Justice and the Palazzo Uguccioni built, perhaps, to a design by Michelangelo or Antonio da Sangallo, the sixteenth-century forecourt of the Uffizi with the front of the palazzo of the same name (called Uffizi because at the time of Cosimo I, it was the officers of the thirteen magistracies of the Medici family), which nowadays houses one of the world's most prestigious art galleries.