Palazzo Vec­chio, Florence

The Palazzo Vec­chio, once home to the Medici and now Florence’s town hall, is also a mu­seum com­plete with beau­ti­ful paint­ings, archaeolog­ical ex­ca­va­tions, tall tow­ers and se­cret pas­sages

Timeless Travels Magazine - - CONTENTS -

Work com­menced on the Palazzo Vec­chio in 1299. Also known as the Pala­gio della Sig­no­ria it has been the sym­bol of civic power in Florence for over seven cen­turies. Built orig­i­nally to house the city’s gov­ern­ing body and Gon­falonier of Jus­tice, it was ex­panded and ren­o­vated in 1540 to its cur­rent ap­pear­ance to adapt the build­ing to its new func­tion as both ducal palace and seat of the court.

At this time, the ruler of Florence was Cosimo I de’ Medici, who’d only been in power a few years fol­low­ing the mur­der of his pre­de­ces­sor, Alessandro de’ Medici, the first duke of Florence. The move to the Palazzo Vec­chio was there­fore a state­ment of power: the build­ing was de­signed to pro­vide not only the pri­vate apart­ments for the fam­ily, but also the Floren­tine of­fices and mag­is­tra­cies, and ev­ery­thing was aimed at cel­e­brat­ing the en­light­ened Medici rulers, the uni­fi­ca­tion of Tus­cany and the Duke him­self.

While most vis­i­tors to Florence can’t help be se­duced by all the fan­tas­tic Re­nais­sance art and ar­chi­tec­ture on show, the city was orig­i­nally founded in 59 BC by the Ro­mans. Julius Cae­sar gave land in the fer­tile Arno Val­ley to his sol­diers, and the first set­tle­ment was along the lines of a mil­i­tary camp on a grid ba­sis with the main streets, the cardo and de­cumanus in­ter­sect­ing at the cur­rent Piazza della Repub­lica. The set­tle­ment, known as Floren­tia, was si­t­u­ated on the Via Cas­sia, the main route be­tween Rome and the North, which meant it was able to ex­pand rapidly as a com­mer­cial cen­tre. As it flour­ished a num­ber of pub­lic buildings were com­pleted, in­clud­ing a theatre, am­phithe­atre, fo­rum, baths and an aque­duct. In the third century

AD, Em­peror Dio­cle­tian made Floren­tia cap­i­tal of the prov­ince of Tus­cia.

The re­mains of the Ro­man theatre can now be glimpsed be­neath the Palazzo Vec­chio. Vis­i­tors can see the theatre that was built in two phases: the first that be­gan in the first century BC and then the sec­ond, more sub­stan­tial phase be­tween the first and sec­ond cen­turies AD, when Em­peror Hadrian re­built the en­trance to the theatre in stone.

Mov­ing from the base­ment into the palace, via the Cor­tile di Mich­e­lozzo, the court­yard adorned with stuc­coes and fres­coes, the first main room that you en­counter is the Salone dei Cin­que­cento, the main large hall with mon­u­men­tal paint­ings show­ing the history of the city by Gior­gio Vasari and Giovanni Bat­tista Nal­dini and a rich ar­ray of stat­ues, in­clud­ing Michelan­gelo’s Vic­tory.

A small and win­dow­less room off the main hall was the stu­dio of Francesco I de’ Medici - but take note as this room is far more than it seems. This room, be­long­ing to Cosimo’s el­dest son, was built about 1570 and in it he kept his rare and pre­cious items. Jew­els, medals, carved stones, crys­tals and his smaller in­ven­tions were all con­cealed within cab­i­nets (on the lower reg­is­ter) with the paint­ings on the front of the cab­i­nets al­lud­ing to what was in­side. But that is not all that is hidden here. One of the sec­tions con­ceals a pri­vate door - and if you are booked on to the ‘se­cret pas­sages’ tour, then you can ex­plore the pri­vate stair­case be­hind.

If you love go­ing be­hind the scenes then the se­cret pas­sage tour is def­i­nitely for you. Not only do these con­cealed pas­sage­ways take you to an al­ter­na­tive exit in a side street, you can also go up into the roof area. This area was used in a scene in the film In­ferno based on the book by Dan Brown. While the guide will ex­plain that it is im­pos­si­ble to fall through the ceil­ing to the Salone dei Cin­que­cento be­low (as seen in the film), it is still fun to ex­plore the mag­nif­i­cent ar­chi­tec­ture of the roof struc­ture.

On the sec­ond floor of the mu­seum are the pri­vate rooms of the Medici court, in­clud­ing the Cap­pella di Eleonora (the chapel with paint­ings by Ag­nolo Bronzino), the Sala delle Carte Geografich­e (with over 50 paint­ings of all parts of the world known in the six­teenth century), as well as the mez­za­nine floor that houses paint­ings and sculp­tures from the Mid­dle Ages and Re­nais­sance, left to the city by Charles Loeser.

If the weather is good you can fin­ish your visit by climb­ing up the 223 steps of the tower (95 metres high) which gives fan­tas­tic views across Florence. So there is much to see and en­joy in this for­mer seat of power.

Above: The ex­te­rior and in­te­rior court­yard (Cor­tile di Mich­e­lozzo) of the Palazzo Vec­chio

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