Florence doesn't have quite as many lions as Venice, but it has its fair share. But like Venice's lion of St Mark, the Marzocco is no ordinary creature; it evolved from a statue of the war god Mars, once placed as the guardian on the Ponte Vecchio, where it witnessed the first blow in the war between Guelphs and Ghibellines (see the illuminated manuscript in the Museo Casa di Dante) before it was washed away in the Arno flood of 1333.
According to legend, the Florentines decided to morph Mars into a lion because in a one on one, a lion could defeat an eagle, and eagle was the symbol of the hated imperial party. Another story goes that a real lion, kept in a cage by the Baptistry, escaped in 1280 and grabbed a child, but returned it unharmed to its mother. Lions thereafter were regarded as good luck. 'Marzocco!' was part of the Florentine battle cry.
Images by Dave & Margie Hill / Kleerup, PD Art