The statue of Ferdinando I, astride his horse in piazza Santissima Annunziata, is a familiar sight. But take a closer look at the base of the statue. On the bronze plaque at the rear of the statue is a curious circle of bees, all facing the queen in the centre: the bees represent the state of Florence as an industrious community ruled by the grand duke.
The plaque has acquired a local legend. It is said that it is impossible to count the number of bees using only your eyes. Because of the irregular concentric arrangement, those who try will always lose count—said to be a deliberate trick on the part of the grand duke and the sculptor, Pietro Tacca, who finished the statue started by his teacher, Giambologna, to suggest that the ultimate meaning of power is inexplicable.
Some parents are said to use the bee pattern to test their children’s attention spans, promising a present if they succeed. It is also said that good fortune will shine on those clever enough to count the bees. But beware: those who try to cheat by touching the bees or pointing at them while counting may find their luck turns the other way.