The elegant Palazzo Pretorio was the center of Varese's municipal government from the 16th through the 19th centuries, when the city's government was transferred to Palazzo Estense. Construction began in 1570, and in 1589, it was topped with a bell which rang to mark important civic occasions, such as public meetings, and for everyday occasions, such as the start of curfew or closing time at the local taverns. The exterior facade and portico were remodeled in the 19th century, but the interior maintains much of its original 16th-century layout and character.
Varese was an important location in the Austro-Sardinian War, also known as the Second War of Italian Independence, Franco-Austrian War, or Austro-Piedmontese War, and this is marked by a statue which stands outside the Palazzo Pretorio, in the Piazza del Podesta. The statue is a bronze replica, cast in 1901, of Luigi Buzzi Leone's marble monument to Guiseppe Garibaldi's Cacciatore delle Alpi - the Hunters of the Alps. These were Garibaldi's elite mountain soldiers, who defeated an Austrian army at the Battle of Varese in 1859. Locally, the statue is called the Garibaldini.
Today, the Palazzo Pretorio houses shops and private residences. The Casa del Disco is a music store which sells CDs, DVDs, and vinyl records, and also offers DJ classes. The Caffe Biffi, next door, offers a fun, casual atmosphere for a night out, and a location for newly-trained DJs to test their skills. Its outdoor tables are a perfect spot to relax and admire the beauty of Varese.