The name Marzocco means little Mars. It dates back to the old Roman origins of Florence founded in 59 B.C. According to the tradition at the place of the Baptistery in Piazza S Giovanni, there was temple dedicated to Mars. A statue of the god was preserved here and then it was moved on Ponte Vecchio to protect the city, until the flood of 1333 brought it away. The history instead, witnesses the temple didn't exist: in fact inside the Baptistery the old pavement of a Roman house is still visible! A mosaic decoration identified a rich roman domus.
The most famous Marzocco was sculpted by Donatello in 1418; today it is preserved inside the National Bargello Museum but you can observe its copy in Piazza Signoria. The lion is leaning its paw on the florentine coat of arm: a red lily decorated on a white background.
A cage full of lions was situated behind Piazza Signoria in the actual Via dei Leoni in the middle of XIV century to protect priors, the representatives of Florentine government.
The bronze animal is even placed at the top of the tower of the priors palace built by Arnolfo di Cambio in 1310. As the Florentine saying goes: "Se il lione piscia in Arno è acqua" that means if the wind blows and the lion turns towards the Arno pissing in the river, it is going to rain!
A copy of the Marzocco in Piazza Signoria (left)
The bronze emblem of Florence situated at the top of Palazzo Vecchio (right)