in 1200 the Municipality of Bologna expropriated several houses and churches in order to create Piazza Maggiore, thus laying the foundation for the first compound of palaces specifically built for public administrative functions: Palazzo del Podestà, di Re Enzo e del Capitano del Popolo.
Palazzo del Podestà
This was the first seat of the town government, represented by the Podestà and his judges and officers. The original layout did not differ much from today's: under the vaults of its arcades and all around it there were shops of artisans, drapers, green grocers all lined up, thronging with people, while underneath the stairs notary publics drafted bills and contracts. The original project included a bell tower called dell'arengo, whose purpose was to summon citizens in case of out-of-the ordinary events (assemblies, wars..). Originally the tower was supposed to be built in wood, but it was replaced in 1259 by today's square-shaped brick tower built by Alberto di S. Pietro.
The four corner pillars supporting the tower form a groin vault, called 'Voltone del Podestà', where in 1525 the terracotta statues of the town's patron saints, made by Alfonso Lombardi, were placed: S. Petronio, S. Procolo, S. Domenico and S. Francesco. A peculiar sound effect enables visitors to hear each other's whispers from the opposite corners of the large vault. Based on a model by Aristotile Fioravanti, who in 1453 placed today's bell, the Romanesque façade was renovated with Renaissance forms by the town ruler, Giovanni II Bentivoglio. The renovation started between 1484-94 with the participation of Marsilio Infrangipani for the decorative part, which remained unfinished. In the main floor, the "piano nobile", the big Sala del Podestà, previously used as a public theatre between the 16th and the 18th centuries and then as a hall for handball games, was frescoed with famous episodes of the history of Bologna in the first decade of the 20th century by Adolfo De Carolis and his students.