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Palazzo Vecchio (Old Palace), Florence

Overview

Palazzo Vecchio at night
Palazzo Vecchio at night

Photo by PetarM on Wikimedia Commons

Palazzo Vecchio is the Florence Town Hall, and one of the most important buildings in the city. It was built in the 13th century, and over time it had several names. Initially it was named Palazzo dei Priori, acting as the seat of the Priori (mayors), then Palazzo della Signoria, acting as the Signoria of Florence (government of Republic of Florence) at the time, then Palazzo del Popolo ("People Palace"), and Palazzo Ducale (so named during the time when it was the residence of Duke Cosimo de Medici). For a long time, the Medici Family, one of the most long-lived, rich, and influential families in the city, had the right to use the palace as a residence, political and administrative headquarters. The current name, "Palazzo Vecchio", received it in the sixteenth century when the Medici Family moved its residence to the "new" Pitti Palace, built nearby, on the opposite bank of the river Arno and "Palazzo della Signoria" became "Palazzo Vecchio" - Old Palace. The name of the square, "Piazza della Signoria", remained unchanged.

Description

The tower with the clock above the arches with coats of arms of the Florentine republic
The tower with the clock above the arches with coats of arms of the Florentine republic

Photo by Lorenzo Testa on Wikimedia Commons

Palazzo Vecchio
Palazzo Vecchio

Photo by Jebulon on Wikimedia Commons

The palace was designed in 1298 and built between 1299 -1314 by the architect Arnolfo di Cambio. Considered the founder of the Florentine architecture, he also designed the Florence Cathedral (Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore) and the Basilica of Santa Croce. The plan of the building followed the Romanesque style of the medieval castles, with massive, fortified walls, finished with battlements and towers. The architectural novelty is the "cubic form", evoking stability, simplicity and strength. The construction is imposing, balanced, with several horizontal rows of windows, preceding the Italian Renaissance. The last row of windows, smaller, has medieval fortifications, with ramparts, called "machicoulis" and guard walls finished with a series of battlements. Palazzo Vecchio's tower, bearing the name of the architect "Arnolfo Tower" ("Torre di Arnolfo"), rises above Florence, and has become the symbol of the city. The first part of the tower, completed in 1302 is simple, with massive walls. The upper part ends with a balcony opened in Romanesque, semicircular arches, with stone ornaments and battlements. It has a vertical, slim, elegant appearance. There is a stone staircase with 223 steps to reach its top. It was used strategically for withdrawal in case of danger, for security, as an observatory - "belvedere", a place to admire and take pictures of the city. Due to its height, it dominates the other buildings, many finished with dungeons and towers but which were not allowed to exceed the height of 29 meters. During the 12-14th centuries, there were over one hundred and fifty tower buildings in Florence, indicating their owners' noble origin. The tower currently has three bells and also, at the base, a round, one-handed clock from 1667, built in Germany to replace the original 1353 clock. The clock still has the original mechanism from 1667. Above the entrance there is the Monogram of Christ, flanked by two gilded lions was carved on a marble frontispiece, and below the Latin inscription "Rex regum et Dominus Dominantium" ("King of Kings and Lord of Lords"). The palazzo has three courtyards, richly decorated. The first, designed in 1453 by Michelozzo Michelozzi and delimited by columns and arches one, contains many artworks: Samson and Philistine by Pierino da Vinci in a niche, frescoes on the walls painted in 1565 by Giorgio Vasari representing Austrian Habsburg cities, and in the center, a porphyry fountain by Battista del Tadda, with a replica made by Giorgio Vasari of the the statue "Putto with Dolphin" by Andrea del Verrocchio (1476) on top of the basin. The original of the statue is displayed on the second floor of the palace. This typical Florentine courtyard was used as a model for the elegant palaces of the Italian Renaissance
Palazzo Vecchio seen from Uffizi Gallery
Palazzo Vecchio seen from Uffizi Gallery

Photo by Chris Wee on Flickr

Main entrance with frontispiece and statues (Michelangelo's 'David' is on the left)
Main entrance with frontispiece and statues (Michelangelo's 'David' is on the left)

Photo by Andrzej O on Wikimedia Commons

The Hall of the Five Hundred (Salone dei Cinquecento) is the largest and most important room in the palace. It was built by Simone del Pollaiolo in 1494, on commission of the philosopher Fra Girolamo Savonarola who, replacing the Medici after their exile, wanted to establish a democratic government and created the Grand Council (Consiglio Maggiore), consisting of 500 members, similar to Venice's Grand Council. Initially, Michelangelo started working on Battle of Cascina and Leonardo da Vinci the Battle of Anghiari, but nether works were completed and they were replaced by Giorgio Vasari's frescoes representing Florence's battles and military victories. It is said that Giorgio Vasari created a double wall and kept Leonardo's original work, but nothing was found so far. Michelangelo's marble group "The Genius of Victory" (1533-1534) is located here in a niche. Bandinelli's statue of the seated "Leo X" is located in the center, and on the right a statue of "Charles V crowned by Clement VII", as well as de' Rossi six statues representing the "Labors of Hercules" along the walls. On the second floor, there were three private apartments: the Apartments of the Elements, the Apartments of Eleonora of Toledo, and the Apartments of the Priori. The apartments' richly decorated rooms were transformed into a museum. Original works of the greatest Italian artists are displayed here: Michelangelo's round painting "Sacra Famiglia" ("Holy Family"), works by Andreea del Verrocchio, Giorgio Vasari, Agnolo Bronzino, Michelozzo Michelozzi. There are also two richly decorated chapels, Cappella di Eleonora, frescoed by Angelo Bronzino and containing the painting "The Crossing of the Red Sea" by Agnolo di Cosimo, and Chapel of the Signoria dedicated to St. Bernard, with frescoes by by Ridolfo Ghirlandaio.
First courtyard; statue 'Putto with Dolphin' on the fountain in center and frescoes by Vasari
The first courtyard, with the statue 'Putto with Dolphin' on the fountain in the center and frescoes by Vasari

Photo by Francesco Gasparetti on Flickr

First courtyard - detail with Vasari's frescoes in the background
First courtyard - detail with Vasari's frescoes in the background

Photo by Paolo Villa on Wikimedia Commons

First courtyard - detail
First courtyard - detail

Photo by Lorenzo Testa on Wikimedia Commons

The Hall of the Five Hundred (Salone dei Cinquecento)
The Hall of the Five Hundred (Salone dei Cinquecento)

Photo by Bradley Grzesiak on Wikimedia Commons

The Hall of the Five Hundred - ceiling detail
The Hall of the Five Hundred - ceiling detail

Photo by Sailko on Wikimedia Commons

Studiolo of Francesco I
Studiolo of Francesco I

Photo by Magnificus on Wikimedia Commons

History

During the Roman Empire, there was an outdoor theatre on this location, designed to accommodate around 6,000 spectators. Remains of the theatre and related thermal baths were found along today's Via dei Leoni and under Palazzo Vecchio and Piazza della Signoria. Excavations are still going on. In the Middle Ages, the area was densely built, with houses and a few towers built on the site. In the 13th century, the ancient and very powerful Florentine noble family Uberti, leaders of the Ghibelline faction, gained control over the city. They destroyed all the rivals Gulephs' palaces and properties and built two palaces there, Palazzo dei Fanti and Palazzo dell'Esecutore di Giustizia. When their rivals the Guelphs regained control over the city in 1260, they banished the Uberti family from Florence and responded in the same style, demolishing the two palaces built by the Uberti family and building Palazzo Vecchio on the two palaces' exact location. This is why Palazzo Vecchio was built on one side the the Piazza and not in its center. In 1540, it became the residence of the Duke Cosimo I de' Medici until 1565, when he moved in the "new" Palazzo Pitti, and the name of the palace changed from Palazzo Ducale to Palazzo Vecchio (the Old Palace). At that time Vasari Corridor was built, connecting Palazzo Vecchio to Palazzo Pitti through the Uffizi Galery and Ponte Vecchio.

Ticket and schedule info: museicivicifiorentini.comune.fi.it/en/