In 1200, Bologna’s municipality expropriated several houses and churches to create Piazza Maggiore and erected the first complex of palaces destined specifically for public administrative purposes - Palazzo del Podestà, Palazzo di Re Enzo and Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo.
Palazzo del Podestà
It was the first seat of the city government, which was presided over by the Podestà and his judges and officers. The original structure was not much different from the one we see today: underneath the vaults of the portico and the surrounding area, there were animated shops of the merchants, greengrocers and artisans, while underneath the stairway entrance on the first floor the notary publics stipulated deeds and contracts. Ever since it was first built, it has had a bell tower - known as the Arengo Tower - that was used to rally all citizens in case of extraordinary events (meetings, wars...). Originally, however, it had to be constructed out of wood, which was eventually replaced in 1259 by today's quadrangular terracotta tower built by Alberto di S. Pietro. The four corner pillars that support the tower form a cross vault called "Voltone del Podestà" where in 1525 the terracotta statues of the patron saints of the city were moulded by Alfonso Lombardi: San Petronio, San Procolo, San Domenico and San Francesco (St. Francis). A particular acoustic effect allows visitors to talk softly from the opposite corners of the vault. Based on a model of Aristotile Fioravanti, who installed the present bell in 1453, the Romanesque façade was renovated in Renaissance style upon the order of the Lord of the City, Giovanni II Bentivoglio. The renovation began between 1484 and 1494 with the collaboration of Marsilio Infrangipani regarding the decorative part in decorative ashlars, which remained unfinished. On the ground floor, the large hall of the Podestà (already in use as a public theatre between the 16th and 18th centuries) was used as a hall for playing European football, and was frescoed in the first decade of the 20th century by Adolfo De Carolis and his students, depicting famous episodes from Bologna's history.