The Palazzo Vecchio is the town hall of Florence, Palazzo Vecchio has been the symbol of the civic power of Florence for over seven centuries. The Palazzo Vecchio overlooks the Piazza della Signoria, which holds a copy of Michelangelo’s David statue, and the gallery of statues in the adjacent Loggia dei Lanzi. It represents the best synthesis of the city’s fourteenth- century civil architecture and is one of the most famous civic buildings in the world.
Originally called Palazzo dei Priori, built between the end of the thirteenth century and the beginning of the fourteenth to house the city’s supreme governing body, the Priori delle Arti and the Gonfalonier of Justice. it was later identified in the 15th century as Palazzo della Signoria, from the name of the main body of the Republic of Florence; in 1540 it became the “Palazzo Ducale”, when Duke Cosimo I de ‘Medici made it his residence; finally the name Vecchio when, in 1565, the Grand Duke Cosimo I elected the Pitti palace as his palace.
Over time it has been subject to a series of extensions and transformations. The building has gradually enlarged towards the east, occupying an entire block and extending the initial fourteenth-century parallelepiped to quadruple its size, with a plan reminiscent of a trapezoid of which the façade is only the shorter side. The walls of the Palazzo Vecchio are rich in inscriptions and plaques, in the courtyard are painted symbols of the Guilds of Florence.
Its current appearance is mainly due to the splendid restoration work and interior decoration carried out in the mid-sixteenth century to adapt the building to its new function as ducal palace as ordered by Cosimo I de’ Medici. After the transfer of the Medici court to Palazzo Pitti, it continued to host the Guardaroba (where the ceremonial costumes and family treasures were stored) and various governmental offices, until it became the seat of the Florence City Council in 1871.
There are no doors or openings for the safety of those who administered power. It could only be accessed from the courtyard. Palazzo Vecchio has several entrances including the Porta della Tramontana (North Wind Gate), the Porta della Dogana (Customs Gate) and the Porticciola (Small Gate), connected to a secret staircase and built by the Duke of Athens to ensure an escape route in the turbulent years of its rule.
From 1865 to 1871 it was the seat of the Parliament of the Kingdom of Italy, while today it houses the Mayor of Florence and various municipal offices. There is also a museum, which allows you to visit the magnificent rooms where, among others, Agnolo Bronzino, Ghirlandaio, Giorgio Vasari worked, and where works by Michelangelo Buonarroti, Donatello, Verrocchio are exhibited.
Palazzo Vecchio is also an amazing museum, each room is rich in history and secrets. In front of the façade stand out in their beauty statues of the Marzocco and a copy of Judith and Holofernes, also the copy of the statue of Michelangelo’s David which is the guard of the building since 1504. The set of coats of arms on the facade is a unique testimony of medieval Florence and its balance of power, translated into symbols and references.
The Chapel of the Signoria (Cappella dei Priori) is famous mostly for having accepted Fra Savonarola in prayer for a moment before being burned alive in Piazza della Signoria. The Audience Hall and the Hall of Lilies are richly decorated with works by Benedetto da Majano, Ghirlandaio and wooden doors with images of Dante Alighieri and Petrarch. Palazzo Vecchio also houses the death mask of Dante.
The Hall of Geographical Maps or Wardrob was the place where the Medici guarded their most valuable goods, and today retains wonderful geographical maps and a famous globe. The Vecchia Cancelleria (Old Chancellor’s Office) is known for hosting Niccolò Machiavelli when he was Secretary of the Florentine Republic.
The other stunning rooms of the museum are named after the gentlemen and noblewomen who made great the House of Medici over the centuries: Pope Leo X, Cosimo the Elder, Lorenzo the Magnificent, Cosimo I, Giovanni dalle Bande Nere, the only mercenary soldier leaders of the Medici family, and Pope Clement VII.
On the main ashlar facade, the Arnolfo Tower is one of the emblems of the city. The tower dates back to 1310. One of the three bells in the tower, affectionately called Martinella, is very dear to the Florentines, because it has always had the function to call to citizenship in the assembly.
The main facade gives the impression of solidity also thanks to the external finish of rustic ashlar in pietraforte. It is divided into three main floors by string courses, which emphasize two rows of neo-Gothic marble mullioned windows with trefoil arches, added in the eighteenth century to replace the original ones.
The ancient part is crowned by a projecting gallery supported by corbels on round arches and characterized by a Guelph -type battlements (with a squared top), while the tower has a Ghibelline (“dovetail”) battlements. Each corbel was decorated with a sculpted head, human or animal, of which some bronze specimens are still visible. Some of these arches are equipped with machicolations that could be used, for defensive purposes, to throw boiling oil or stones on any invaders.
In the four corners of the gallery there were four niches with stone marzocchi. The French door and the small terrace are late additions.
The raised platform in front of the building is the so -called arengario or herringbone, an area that takes its name from the “railing” that once enclosed it and which was eliminated during the nineteenth-century restorations by Giuseppe Del Rosso. The staircase itself also turned on the left side, but was cut with the Renaissance interventions.
Michelangelo’s David marked the entrance from 1504, the year of its completion, until 1873 when it was moved to the Academy. A copy has been in his place since 1910, flanked by Hercules and Cacus by Baccio Bandinelli, a sculptor who was much criticized for his “boldness” in combining a work of his with Michelangelo’s masterpiece. In front of the door jambs there are the two marble Termini, the male one by Vincenzo de ‘Rossi and the female one by Baccio Bandinelli, which reflect a typology of classical statuary: in ancient times they supported a chain that served to bar the entrance.
Above the main portal stands a decorative marble frontispiece dated 1528, with the radiated monogram of Christ the King. In the center, flanked by two lions, there is the trigram of Christ, surrounded by the inscription Rex Regum et Dominus Dominantium (Jesus Christ, King of King and Lord of Lords). Another bronze plaque recalls the plebiscite of March 15, 1860 which allowed the union of Tuscany to the Kingdom of Italy.
Under the arches of the gallery in 1353 a series of coats of arms were painted which symbolize some particular aspects of the Florentine Republic. The series of nine coats of arms is repeated twice on the facade and two coats of arms are also found on the left side.
In the center, to replace the ancient well, a porphyry fountain was erected by Battista del Tadda and Raffaello di Domenico di Polo, based on a design by Vasari and with the probable collaboration of Bartolomeo Ammannati. Resting on a large octagonal base, with the last two round steps, it has a porphyry column that supports a marble basin. On the fountain was placed in 1557 the oldest bronze statue of the Putto with dolphin by Andrea del Verrocchio (around 1470), moved from 1959on the second floor of the building and replaced in the courtyard by a copy.
This small sculpture, which rests on a central balustrade in the shape of an amphora with gushing lion heads, was initially located in the garden of the Medici villa in Careggi, in the fountain of Love, at the edge of which the Neoplatonic Academy could meet in the months summer. The water that still feeds it today, gushing from the nostrils of the dolphin, arrives from the Boboli hill thanks to an ancient water system of pipes.
In the niche in front of the fountain, next to the porphyry portal opposite the entrance, Samson and the Philistine by Pierino da Vinci, sculpted for the court superintendent Luca Martini and placed here in 1592. The columns are richly decorated, with grooves alternating with parts worked with gilded stucco, the work of Santi Buglioni and Lorenzo Marignolli.
The frescoes on the walls are vedute of the cities of the Austrian Habsburg monarchy, painted in 1565 by Giorgio Vasari for the wedding celebration of Francesco I de’ Medici, the eldest son of Cosimo I de’ Medici, to Archduchess Johanna of Austria, sister of the Emperor Maximilian II. Amongst the cities depicted are Graz, Innsbruck, Linz, Vienna, Bratislava (Pozsony), Prague, Hall in Tirol, Freiburg im Breisgau and Konstanz. Some were damaged over the course of time.
The harmoniously proportioned columns, at one time smooth, and untouched, were at the same time richly decorated with gilt stuccoes. The barrel vaults are furnished with grotesque decorations. In the lunettes, high around the courtyard, are crests of the church and city guilds. In the center, the porphyry fountain is by Battista del Tadda. The Putto with Dolphin on top of the basin is a copy of the original by Andrea del Verrocchio (1476), now on display on the second floor of the palace. This small statue was originally placed in the garden of the Villa Medici at Careggi. The water, flowing through the nose of the dolphin, is brought here by pipes from the Boboli Gardens.
From the left side of the courtyard a door leads to the ancient Chamber of Arms, once used as a warehouse for weapons and ammunition and today used for temporary exhibitions and special events. Built by 1312, it is the only room in the building to preserve its primitive structure, with cross-ribbed brick roofs and pillars in pietraforte. During the restoration in 1910, the original plasters were demolished and the door to the square (of Tramontana), closed in 1380, was reopened.
The second courtyard, also known as the Customs courtyard, has massive pillars built in 1494 by Cronaca to support the ” Salone dei Cinquecento ” on the second floor. It takes its name from the customs offices that were located here since the time of Leopold II of Tuscany, when they were established. The Florentine Customs House received the goods coming from outside the Grand Duchy and took them in storage, waiting for the recipient to take them over (“sdoganasse”) by paying the relative tax. After the flood of the Arno on November 3, 1844, the goods were severely flooded, so this office was moved to the casino of San Marco in via Cavour, before the judicial offices of the Court of Appeal were placed there.
In the courtyard today are the museum ticket office and the library. On the left wall there are still three stone coats of arms dating back to the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and relating to Capitani del Popolo. The original weather vane of the tower is exhibited here: it is the silhouette of a marzocco with the iron lily of Florence. Placed at the top of the tower in 1493, it was replaced in 1981 by a fiberglass copy. Between the first and the second courtyard is the imposing and monumental staircase by Vasari which leads to the Salone dei Cinquecento.
The third courtyard, called the new courtyard, already planned by Vasari, was carried out by Bartolomeo Ammannati and Bernardo Buontalenti at the end of the extension towards via dei Gondi and via dei Leoni. It is open, without arches and mainly municipal offices overlook it. The staircase that starts here leads to the Mayor’s office and to the council. In ancient times it was decorated with a loggia and external balconies that have been lost in time.
Salone dei Cinquecento
The Salone dei Cinquecento is one of the largest and most precious halls in Italy. The Salone dei Cinquecento (‘Hall of the Five Hundred’) is the most imposing chamber, with a length of 52 m (170 ft) and width of 23 m (75 ft). It was built in 1494 by Simone del Pollaiolo, on commission of Savonarola who, replacing the Medici after their exile as the spiritual leader of the Republic, wanted it as a seat of the Grand Council (Consiglio Maggiore) consisting of 500 members.
Later the hall was enlarged by Giorgio Vasari so that Grand Duke Cosimo I could hold his court in this chamber. During this transformation, famous (but unfinished) works were lost, including the Battle of Cascina by Michelangelo, and the Battle of Anghiari by Leonardo da Vinci. At the time when Florence was the capital of the Kingdom of Italy, parliamentarians gathered here (1865 – 1871).
The ceiling is made with 39 panels built and painted by Vasari and his workshop, representing “Important episodes in the life of Cosimo I”, the districts of the city and the city itself, with the apotheosis in the center representing: “Scene of glorification as grand duke of Florence and Tuscany “.
On the north side of the hall, illuminated by huge windows, there is the raised level called L’udienza, built by Baccio Bandinelli for Cosimo I to receive citizens and ambassadors. Above there are frescoes of historical events including the one in which Pope Boniface VIII received the ambassadors and realizing that they were all Florentines he uttered the famous phrase “You Florentines are the quintessence “.
On the walls are also displayed several sumptuous Medici tapestries including Stories from the life of John the Baptist, taken from a fresco by Andrea del Sarto. The six statues along the walls representing the Labors of Hercules are the work of Vincenzo de ‘Rossi.
In the niches there are sculptures by Bandinelli: in the center the statue of Leo X (made with the help of the assistant Vincenzo de ‘Rossi) and on the right the statue of Charles V crowned by Clement VII. In the central niche (southern part of the room) there is the famous marble group by Michelangelo The genius of Victory (1533 – 1534), originally prepared for the tomb of Pope Julius II.
Studiolo of Francesco I
At the end of the hall is a small side room without windows. The studiolo was a small secret study designed by Vasari in a manneristic style (1570–1575). The walls and the barrel vault are filled with paintings, stucco and sculptures. Most paintings are by the School of Vasari and represent the four elements: fire, water, earth, and air. The portrait of Cosimo I and his wife Eleonora of Toledo was painted by Bronzino. The delicate bronze sculptures were made by Giambologna and Bartolomeo Ammanati. From a peep-hole, Francesco spied on his ministers and officers during meetings in the Salone dei Cinquecento. Dismantled within decades of its construction, it was re-assembled in the 20th century.
The other rooms on the first floor are the Quartieri monumentali. These rooms, the Residence of the Priors and the Quarters of Leo X, are used by the mayor as offices and reception rooms. They are not accessible to the public. From the small study, two stairways lead to the oldest study of Cosimo I or Tesoretto.
The other rooms on the first floor are the “Monumental Quarters”. These rooms are richly decorated according to a program aimed at the celebration of the Medici family. They have long been used as boardrooms by the Mayor; however, they have recently been partially made open to tourists (Leo X ‘s room and Clement VII ‘s room), including the former mayor’s office.
In the district of Leone X there are frescoes that celebrate the genealogy of the Medici family, and take their name from one of the most famous rooms, the one dedicated to the first Medici pope. The paintings are the work of Giorgio Vasari, Giovanni Stradano and Marco da Faenza.
Hall of Leo X
The Sala di Leone X is dedicated to the pope son of Lorenzo the Magnificent who began the fortunes of the family in the sixteenth century, leading it to consolidate its power and importance.
On the ceiling is painted Leo X’s allied troops reconquer Milan from the French, while the rectangular and octagonal panels depict various episodes from the life of Leo X. Other episodes are depicted in the monochrome frescoes, placed in the lateral areas of the walls.
Large scenes are painted in the center of the walls. In the scene of the triumphal entry of Leo X into Florence, we see the appearance of Piazza della Signoria before the construction of the Uffizi, with the church of San Pier Scheraggio still and with the Loggia dei Lanzi without the sculptures.
Also interesting is the fresco of the battle of San Leo, won by Lorenzo Duca d’Urbino for the pope himself. In the background you can clearly see the fortress of San Leo, famous for being the place of imprisonment of Cagliostro. A curiosity of the painting is represented by the personification of a river (an old man) in the foreground holding a large jar: in the jar gushes water coming from the rock, which on closer inspection has the appearance of a standing man who is urinating (?), an allegory of the source of the Marecchia river.
The third wall scene is Leo X elects his college of cardinals. The wall with the windows is decorated instead with some Medici portraits.
At the corners there are four niches with four marble busts: from the left Giuliano, Duke of Nemours by Alfonso Lombardi, Lorenzo Duke of Urbino by Gino Lorenzi, Clemente VII also by Lombardi and Leo X by Lorenzi.
The majestic marble fireplace is designed by Bartolomeo Ammannati; the floor is the work of Santi Buglioni and is in white and red terracotta; in the center the intertwined Medici rings and the partition echoes that of the ceiling.
Room of Cosimo the Elder
The Sala di Cosimo il Vecchio presents in the center of the ceiling Cosimo’s return from exile with his sons Piero and Giovanni (interesting is a view in the painting of Porta San Gallo with the destroyed monastery of San Gallo). The aedicules on the sides, made to a design by Ammannati, are decorated with episodes from the life of Cosimo and allegories.
Hall of Lorenzo the Magnificent
The cycle of frescoes celebrating the Medici family continues in the Lorenzo il Magnifico room. In the ceiling, in the center, Lorenzo the Magnificent is painted receiving the homage of the ambassadors. Followed on the sides by Lorenzo to the diet of Cremona, Portrait of Giuliano di Lorenzo de ‘Medici, Lorenzo goes to Naples to Ferdinand of Aragon, Portrait of Piero il Fatuo, Lorenzo among philosophers and men of letters, Portrait of Giuliano de’ Medici, The taking of Sarzana and Portrait of Giovanni de ‘Medici.
Room of Cosimo I
At the center of the ceiling is the Triumph of Cosimo I in Montemurlo. The other scenes represented are: Cosimo among the artists of his court, Portrait of Francesco I de ‘Medici, Cosimo orders to help Serravalle, Portrait of Don Pietro de’ Medici, Cosimo visits the fortifications of Elba, Portrait of Eleonora di Toledo, Election of Cosimo I as Duke of Florence and Double Portrait of Giovanni and Garzia de ‘Medici.
On the walls various scenes from Cosimo’s life are depicted.
John of the Black Bands Room
The next room is dedicated to Giovanni delle Bande Nere, father of Cosimo I and the only leader of the Medici family. In the center of the ceiling is painted Giovanni swimming the Po and the Adda with the army.
On the walls there are frescoes of various war episodes linked to Giovanni dalle Bande Nere and the portraits of Caterina Sforza (her mother) and Pierfrancesco de ‘Medici (her grandfather).
The desk is a small room adjacent to Cosimo I’s room, formerly equipped with wardrobes and writing desks; the glass window was to light up the room.
The ceiling is decorated with Caesar writing the Commentarii. The inlaid floor is original.
Chapel of Saints Cosma and Damiano
The chapel is dedicated to the protectors of the Medici family, Saints Cosma and Damiano. The ceiling is decorated with a fresco of the Eternal in glory, while on the walls there are three monochrome frescoes.
The altar was originally decorated with Raphael’s beautiful Madonna of the Impintage, now in the Palatine Gallery of Palazzo Pitti and replaced by a copy. On the sides are San Damiano in the features of Cosimo I and San Cosma in the features of Cosimo the Elder. Here too the floor is original from the sixteenth century.
Hall of Clement VII
The room of Clement VII is dedicated to the other Medici pope; in the center of the ceiling Clement VII crowns Charles V. In the ovals and rectangles around there are various scenes from the life of the pope and of characters of his time.
On the walls various episodes of war are depicted, such as the famous Siege of Florence in 1530, where a wide view of the well-known city was depicted.
On the opposite side of the first floor, usually visited at the end of the museum itinerary, is the Ricetto, an environment characterized by the vault frescoed by Lorenzo Sabatini in 1565 with allegorical figures, enterprises and Medici and imperial coats of arms.
The Sala dei Dugento
The Sala dei Dugento, overlooking the shelter, is the place where the municipal council meets, so it is often not open to visitors. It was originally used as a Council room and is part of the oldest section of the building, the fourteenth-century one. It is decorated with a coffered ceiling carved with the arms of Florence, the work of Giuliano and Benedetto da Maiano with help (1462). Furthermore, the two marble portals are the work of Baccio d’Agnolo. The tapestries created for these walls are the Stories of Jewish Giuseppe designed by important Renaissance artists (Pontormo, Bronzino…).
Hall of the Eight
The adjoining Sala degli Otto is a small room used as an office, which has a carved ceiling with cherub heads and lilies, built at the same time as the ceilings of the Sala dei Duegento and the Sala dei Gigli on the upper floor. From here you enter a passage with an ancient staircase, where there is a lunette with an Annunciation, by Marco da Faenza, also author of the grotesque decoration of the nearby bathroom, which was part of the rooms privately inhabited by Cosimo I, distorted and largely canceled by the works of 1865 for Florence as the capital.
A monumental staircase, designed by Vasari, leads to the second floor. This floor contains the Neighborhood of the Elements, once a private area of Cosimo I and dedicated to Air, Water, Earth and Fire, and the Neighborhood of Eleonora, once inhabited by Eleonora of Toledo. The iconographic theme was elaborated by the scholar Cosimo Bartoli, according to a celebratory program connected to that of the first floor.
On the staircase, on the wall of the first landing, there is the fresco of the Fires for the feast of San Giovanni by Giovanni Stradano; the decorations on the vaults and domes of the stairwell are by Marco da Faenza.
Apartments of the Elements
These apartments (Sala degli Elementi) consist of five rooms (such as the Room of Ceres) and two loggias. The commission for these rooms was originally given by Cosimo I to Giovanni Battista del Tasso. But on his death, the decorations were continued by Vasari and his helpers, working for the first time for the Medicis. These rooms were the private quarters of Cosimo I.
In the first room, the Hall of the Elements, the allegories of the Elements are met: Water (Birth of Venus), Earth (Firstfruits of the Earth offered and Saturn), Fire (Forge of Vulcan) and the ceiling is decorated with the allegory of Air, with in the center Saturn that mutilates the sky. Mercury and Pluto are frescoed between the windows. The majestic fireplace was designed by Ammannati.
In the second room, called Sala di Opi, there is the fresco with the Triumph of the Goddess Opi (divinity sometimes identified with Cybele) on the ceiling and the allegories of the Months along the frieze; the floor is in white and red terracotta which echoes the partitions on the ceiling, with the inscription dedicated to Cosimo I dated 1556 in the center; tortoiseshell and bronze lockers against the walls. From the window of this room one looks out onto the third courtyard.
The Sala di Cerere follows, which takes its name from the ceiling decorations painted by Doceno (Ceres looking for Proserpina surrounded by depictions of Divinities and cherubs) and which exhibits some sixteenth-century Florentine tapestries with hunting scenes on cartoons by Giovanni Stradano. The subsequent Scrittoio di Calliope is decorated on the ceiling by the fresco by Calliope and the attributes of the Muses (in the center) and by a frieze with the exploits of Duke Cosimo I; the window has an original stained glass window with Venus dressed by the Graces between Faith and Hope.
The Sala di Giove has a ceiling with the fresco Jupiter as a child raised by the Nymphs and the Amalthea goat and Florentine tapestries made from cartoons by Giovanni Stradano. The two precious ebony cabinets with inlays in semi-precious stones are later than about a century and come from the factory of the Opificio delle Pietre Stones.
The Terrazzo di Giunone is actually a closed room, but, as the name suggests, it was formerly open to the outside. It was walled up at the time of Ferdinando I de ‘Medici by Bartolomeo Ammannati. On the vault is depicted Juno on a chariot pulled by peacocks, Allegory of Abundance and Allegory of the Podestà. On the walls there are frescoes with Juno, Jupiter and Io (left) and Jupiter Juno and Callisto (right), while in the center there is a niche where a statue of Juno was to be found. Below, a monochrome frieze is decorated with a fountain with a cupid, between ovals with female figures. Here was the original of the bronze statue of the Putto with dolphin by Verrocchio, now moved to a smaller room on the first floor (the copy is located on the ground floor in the original location of the fountain in the first courtyard).
After passing a small frescoed room, you reach the Hall of Hercules, which has a coffered ceiling with The twelve labors of Hercules (Hercules as a child strangling snakes, in the center, The bull of Crete, The hydra of Lerna, The Nemean lion, Cerberus, Hercules stealing the apples of the Hesperides, Hercules and Cacchus, Hercules suffocating Antaeus and Hercules killing Nessus). The room houses a Madonna with Child (the famous ” Madonna of the Ufo”) and a 17th century ebony cabinet inlaid with semiprecious stones.
The Terrazza di Saturno closes the Cosimo neighborhoods, a beautiful open loggia overlooking Florence, which allows a view towards the southwest: piazzale Michelangelo, piazza Santa Croce with the basilica and Forte Belvedere. You can also see the remains of the church of San Pier Scheraggio below. The ceiling is decorated with numerous painted panels: Saturn devouring children, Childhood, Youth, Old age, Virility, Saturn lands in Lazio, Saturn and Janus build Saturnia and the Allegories of the hours of the day, in addition to the Four Elementsin the corners. Here was the banner of the little devil by Giambologna, coming from Palazzo Vecchietti and today in the Bardini Museum.
Apartments of Eleonora of Toledo
One side it overlooks the hall, on the other it has large windows, from which you can see the first section of the Vasari Corridor which leaves Palazzo Vecchio to go to the Uffizi. Beginning in 1540 when Cosimo moved the seat of government here, these rooms were refurbished and richly decorated to be the living quarters of Eleonora.
The Eleonora district was also designed by Giorgio Vasari, for Cosimo I’s wife, Eleonora di Toledo. The first room you meet is the Green Room so called for the color of the walls, once decorated with landscapes. The ceiling decorations, with the Medici-Toledo coat of arms and the grotesques are the work of Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio (1540 – 1542). It is in this room that the access to the Vasari Corridor is found.
On the left you enter the Eleonora’s desk, with a ceiling decorated with grotesques by Francesco Salviati (after 1545).
On the right you enter the Eleonora Chapel, entirely frescoed by Agnolo Bronzino (1564), with the Stories of Moses; also by Bronzino is the great Pietà on the altar. The chapel is accessed by a magnificent marble door made to a design by Bartolomeo Ammannati.
The following rooms overlook the oldest part of the building and were originally used by the Priors and the Gonfaloniere, before being renovated by Vasari with the contributions of Giovanni Stradano (for the paintings) and Battista Botticelli (for the carvings on the ceilings). The iconographic theme of these rooms are the lives of famous women, whose virtues alluded to the virtues of Eleonora. Thus the Sala delle Sabine meet, for the theme of Concord, the Sala di Ester, for Love for the homeland, the Sala di Penelope, for Fidelity, and the Sala di Gualdrada for moral rigor.
The Sala delle Sabine was once used as a waiting room for ladies waiting to be admitted to the court of Eleonora of Toledo. The oval in the center of the ceiling is decorated by The Sabine women bring peace between Roman husbands and Sabine relatives, surrounded by four Allegories of Victories. It also contains the Portraits of the Medici princes by Giusto Sustermans, statues from the Florentine school and tapestries by Fevére.
The Sala di Ester also served as a dining room and has the Coronation of Esther by Stradano on the ceiling, with an inscription in honor of Eleonora of Toledo in the frieze. In the ceiling ovals Facts from Esther’s life and episodes from the history of the Jewish people. There are also preserved a marble basin from the 15th century, moved from the Palagio di Parte Guelfa in 1842, and two tapestries by Van Assel representing Spring and Autumn.
The Penelope Room has on the ceiling Penelope on the loom with other weavers and in the frieze, Stories of Ulysses alternating with Allegories of Virtue; on the sides four river divinities and two Medici-Toledo coats of arms. On the walls: Madonna with Child and Madonna and Child with Saint John by Battista Botticelli. The fireplace is a neo-Renaissance replica from 1921.
The Sala della Gualdrada was for Eleonora’s private room. Gualdrada was a Florentine historical figure, who refused the advances of Emperor Otto IV of her by swearing allegiance to her husband. The paintings are also by Giovanni Stradano (on the ceiling Gualdrada who refuses to kiss the emperor, with Cupids dancing on the sideswith flowers and the exploits of Cosimo I) and there is also preserved a valuable cabinet with inlaid semiprecious stones. Particularly interesting is the frieze, where various views of 16th-century Florence are painted, with squares, party scenes, games and other events, narrated with vivacity and minuteness by Stradano, who was Flemish and therefore used to painstakingly painting the details. The views are alternated with Allegories of Virtue.
Chapel of the Priors
A small side door leads to a short and narrow passage that runs alongside the tower from the inside and which is decorated on the walls and ceiling with portions of frescoes from the 14th-15th centuries. From here you enter the Chapel of the Signoria or of the Priors, dedicated to St. Bernard, which contains a reliquary of the saint. It was also called, in ancient times, “San Bernardo degli Uberti”. Here the Priors used to plead for divine help in carrying out their office. In this chapel Girolamo Savonarola recited his last prayer before being burned alive in Piazza della Signoria. It was built in 1511 – 1514 by Baccio d’Agnolo.
The marvelous frescoes on the walls and ceiling, imitating gold mosaics, are the work of Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio (1511 – 1514). Of particular interest are the Trinity with angels and cherubs on the ceiling and the lunette with the Annunciation on the wall in front of the altar, where you can see the basilica of the Santissima Annunziata before the portico in front of the church was added. In the cruciform compartments of the ceiling there are the Evangelists, and in the other compartments Angels with the symbols of the Passion and biblical writings. The other bezel shows theApparition of the Virgin to Saint Bernard. On the altar there is a painting representing the Holy Family by Mariano Graziadei da Pescia, a pupil of Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio, made in place of the altarpiece never built, but commissioned at the time, by Domenico Ghirlandaio. The door leading to the next room is by Baccio d’Agnolo.
The Sala dell’Udienza or Sala della Giustizia was used to host the meetings of a Gonfaloniere di Giustizia and eight Priors. The carved, painted and gilded ceiling is the work of Giuliano da Maiano (1470 – 1476).
On the portal towards the chapel there is an inscription in honor of Christ (1529) and it is the work of Baccio d’Agnolo. The marble portal that communicates with the Sala dei Gigli, surmounted by the statue of Justice in the lunette, is the work of the brothers Giuliano and Benedetto da Maiano.
The large frescoes on the walls, representing the Stories of Furio Camillo by Francesco Salviati, with the collaboration of Domenico Romano, were made in 1543-1545. These frescoes were an absolute novelty for Florence, since Salviati is deeply inspired by the Roman school of Raphael, of which he can be considered the most worthy continuer.
Sala dei Gigli
The name of the room does not derive from the Florentine lily, but from the fleur-de-lys, emblem of the crown of France, which is distinguished from the Florentine coat of arms by the absence of stamens and by the gold / blue colors instead of red / silver. The lilies are found on the wonderful coffered ceiling and walls, and this homage was a thanksgiving and a tribute of loyalty to the Anjou, protectors of the Guelph side. Also this ceiling and the frieze with the Marzocchi were made by the brothers Benedetto and Giuliano, also authors of the statue of San Giovanni Battista and puttion the opposite portal in this room. The same brothers, with the collaboration of their teacher Francione, also made the doors in wooden inlay, with the figures of Dante and Petrarch.
The wall opposite the entrance was frescoed by Domenico Ghirlandaio around 1482, with the Apotheosis of San Zanobi with the deacons Eugenio and Crescenzio, the first patron saint of Florence. The scene is embellished by a perspective illusion of the background, in which we recognize the Cathedral, with the original facade by Arnolfo di Cambio and the bell tower. The lunettes on the sides depict Brutus, Muzio Scevola and Camillo on the left and Decius, Scipio and Cicero on the right. Medallions of Roman emperors fill the space between the various sections of the frescoes. In the upper lunette there is a bas-relief of the Madonna and Child.
In this room one of Donatello ‘s masterpieces, Judith and Holofernes, has been exhibited since 1988, already located in Piazza della Signoria and today replaced on site (on the Arengario of the Palazzo Vecchio itself) by a copy.
The windows that open onto the adjacent rooms show how this was the east end of the building before it was enlarged.
Room of the Maps or the Cloakroom
From the Sala dei Gigli, a door flanked by two ancient black marble pillars leads to the Hall of geographic maps or of the Wardrobe, or of the Armadi, where the Medici Grand Dukes kept their precious possessions. The strictly architectural part dates back to Vasari, while the furniture and the ceiling are the work of Dionigi Nigetti.
The Hall of Geographical Maps or Guardaroba was an ambitious room that set out to represent the known world of the 16th century through the display of a collection of artifacts and murals of cartography, all seen in relation to scientific instruments of time and astronomy. For various reasons, it was not seen to completion, yet the accounts of Giorgio Vasari, the room’s designer, detail the proposed purpose and visualisation of the space.
The doors of the cabinets are decorated with 53 maps of scientific interest, oil paintings by the Dominican friar Ignazio Danti (1563 – 1575), brother of the sculptor Vincenzo Danti, and Stefano Bonsignori (1575 – 1584). They are of considerable historical interest and give the idea of geographic knowledge of the sixteenth century. Danti, followed the Ptolemaic system for the motion of the stars, but used the new cartographic system of Mercator.
In the center of the room is the famous globe Mappa mundi (which when it was built in 1581 was the largest in the world), the work of Buonsignori and Ignazio Danti, ruined by subsequent restorations.
The Old Chancellery is accessed from a fourteenth-century mullioned window in the Sala dei Gigli transformed into a door. This was probably Machiavelli ‘s office when he was Secretary of the Republic. There is a polychrome terracotta bust of him from the 15th century, probably modeled after his death mask, and his famous portrait of Santi di Tito. The back wall has a bas-relief with St. George and the Dragon from Porta San Giorgio.
Also from the Sala dei Gigli there is also access to the so -called Salotta, interesting for the detached fresco attributed to Orcagna which depicts the Expulsion of the Duke of Athens (coming from the destroyed Stinche prison), a real historical episode that at the time was loaded with symbolic and mythological meanings: it took place on 6 July 1343, Saint Anne ‘s day, which is mentioned in the painting in the act of blessing the Florentines’ banners. The bas-relief with San Zanobi in the background of the Palazzo della Signoria and the city comes from the destroyed Torre dei Girolami, in via Por Santa Maria at thePonte Vecchio.
The room was used by Cellini to restore the treasures of the Medici princes. From the small window in the wall Cosimo I spied on his assistants and officers during the meetings in the Salone dei Cinquecento.
The upper gallery
From the living room starts the steep flight of stairs leading to the gallery and the tower. The Hall of Flags along the route, created in 1886, now houses one of the most prestigious restoration laboratories specializing in tapestries, department of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure.
The mezzanine (Loeser Collection)
The mezzanine between the first and second floors was created by Michelozzo in 1453 by lowering the ceilings of some rooms on the first floor. In these rooms lived Maria Salviati, the mother of Cosimo I, and some young princes. Today it houses the Loeser Collection, donated to Florence by the American art critic Charles Loeser who died in 1928.
In the first room there is the Madonna with Child and San Giovannino, from the school of Lorenzo di Credi, a Madonna and Child in painted stucco from the Florentine school of the fifteenth century, a Madonna in adoration of the Child with San Giovannino by Jacopo del Sellaio, the Madonna with the Child attributed to the Master of the Crucifixion Griggs (15th century) and a Madonna enthroned by the Tuscan school of the 14th century.
A few stone steps lead to a room that was once Cosimo I’s studio in the mezzanine, with a window overlooking Piazza della Signoria and the remains of decorations of birds, animals, fish and plant elements by Bacchiacca.
The next dining room houses perhaps the most famous work in the collection, the Portrait of Laura Battiferri (wife of Ammannati) by Agnolo Bronzino. There are also other works by mannerists, such as the Portrait of Lodovico Martelli by Pontormo and the Zuffa di Cavalieri (fresco sketch) by Vasari. On the sides of the fireplace two Romanesque sculptures: a capital with eagles (first half of the 13th century) and a crowned head (first half of the 12th century).
In the corner room are exhibited the Madonna and Child with San Giovannino from the school of Pacino di Buonaguida (14th century), the Madonna with Child and San Giovannino by Berruguete and the Madonna and Child by Pietro Lorenzetti. There are also a praying Angel by Tino di Camaino, from the tomb of Bishop Orso in Santa Maria del Fiore, a Franciscan Saint, in painted terracotta of the fifteenth century, a Bust of St.Anthony, in painted stucco of the fifteenth century, a Madonna with the Child in glazed terracotta (16th century), aChrist in the sepulcher, embroidered on a design by Raffaellino del Garbo, and a painted Cross by a Sienese painter dating back to around 1280. Above the door is a Roman mosaic with a Pavona.
The Sala dei Gigli d’Oro presents a Madonna and Child sculpted in the manner of Donatello and the same subject in the manner of Michelozzo, while a third is by a follower of Arnolfo di Cambio. The painting of the Madonna and Child with St. John is in the style of Pontormo or Bronzino. The Last Supper is by an unknown 16th century Venetian painter, while on a sideboard there are two groups of warriors and knights by Giovan Francesco Rustici. The polychrome wooden sculpture depicts Santa Caterina da Siena, from the Sienese school of the fifteenth century. L’Anatomy of a Horse is a bronze by Giuseppe Valadier. The display case contains Autumn, a bronze statue attributed to Benvenuto Cellini, a wax Hercules and Hydra by Giambologna, and a wax Holy Family copied from a work by Michelangelo in the 16th century. Finally, on the sideboard there are two Angels by Jacopo Sansovino, a Portrait of Cosimo I in terracotta by Vincenzo de ‘Rossi and a hanging painting with the Passion of Christ, attributed to Piero di Cosimo.
About 94 meters high, the tower of Palazzo Vecchio was built around 1310 when the body of the building was almost finished. Located on the façade (probably inspired by the Castello dei Conti Guidi in Poppi), it leans only partially on the underlying walls, presenting the front side completely built in false (i.e. protruding with respect to the underlying structures) with an architectural solution that is both very audacious and aesthetically satisfying.
The body of the tower, in addition to the stairs, has a small room called the Alberghetto inside which were held prisoners. The gallery of the belfry, with Ghibelline (dovetail) merlons, is supported by corbels with pointed arches, above which rests an aedicule with round arches supported by four massive masonry columns surmounted by leaf capitals. Around one of the columns you can see the spiral staircase that allows you to climb onto the roof.
On the top there is a large weather vane (more than two meters high) in the shape of Marzocco which holds the shaft surmounted by the Florentine lily: it is a copy, the original can be admired in all its grandeur inside of the building. Looking at the shelves that support the balcony of the tower from below, one has the strange sensation that the corner ones do not rest on anything, like small overturned pyramids: it is a curious optical effect caused by the shadows at the corners.
The large clock was originally built by the Florentine Nicolò Bernardo, but replaced in 1667 by one made by Giorgio Lederle of Augusta and mounted by Vincenzo Viviani, which is still functional today.
The Porta di Tramontana, so called due to its location to the north from where the Tramontana wind blows, is the second monumental entrance to the original fourteenth-century building. It is characterized by a tympanum with two niches where once there were two Marzocchi lions. From it you enter the barracks, now used only for temporary exhibitions.
The door on the north side, near via dei Gondi, bears on the portal, in addition to the usual sculpted coats of arms of Florence and the People, a crenellated door inlaid in polychrome marble, the coat of arms of the Dogana. From here it was possible to access the customs offices which had its warehouses in the basement of the building, and which still gives its name to the so-called courtyard of the Customs.
On the side of via dei Leoni there is a large portal built by Bernardo Buontalenti during the works of the last enlargements of the building (1549, completed by Ammannati in 1596). It features a rustic sketch and a large Medici coat of arms. The small door on Via della Ninna dates back to the time of the Duke of Athens, who had it open at the end of a “secret” staircase that started from his apartments and which actually helped him at the time of his hasty escape from city.