My only real disappointment in Florence came with the Duomo. I arrived too late in the day to be able to climb high into Brunelleschi’s dome to see for myself this amazing construction. I had to be content with worshipping from the ground, but I knew that there was more than one place to admire from. Palazzo Vecchio provided a perfect viewing platform, and so much more.
Funny to think of this grandiose building as the town hall of Florence, but so it is. Built in 1299 as Palazzo della Signoria, to house the ruling body of the Republic of Florence, the Signoria, its fortress-like appearance belies the opulence inside. Much of this was added when Duke Cosimo 1 de Medici made it his official residence in 1540.
Intrigue was rife and in 1549 Cosimo moved his family across the River Arno to the security of Palazzo Pitti, renaming his former residence Palazzo Vecchio. The ‘Old Palace’ houses many secrets. Can you imagine the extreme need for privacy that led to the commissioning of an above-ground ‘hidden’ walkway? The Vasari Corridor leads from Palazzo Vecchio, through the Uffizzi, and across Ponte Vecchio to the Pitti Palace.
Impossible to orchestrate the full history of this palace, but come with me to whet your appetite a little.
And we’ve barely reached the cloisters! In the vast ground floor space I was challenged as to which ticket to purchase. ‘Tower plus Museum’ sent me off in the direction of my first flight of steps, while the other half reclined with a coffee.
A statue beckons from a niche, and in no time I’m on a level with the roofs of Florence. The 94 metre high tower sits on the solid structure below and contains 2 small cells. Savonarola was detained here before his trial. A not too challenging stairwell leads you upwards until you are atop the tower, with sweeping views across Florence, even on a grey day. I watched the clouds anxiously as I knew the tower is closed if it rains.
The impact of the Salone dei Cinquecento defies description. Built in the 15th century to house Maggiore Consiglio, Florence’s legislative assembly, the ‘Hall of the 500’ is still used today for ceremonial events. Folding chairs sit in the hush, while you try to take in the wonder of Michelangelo and his contemporaries, all around you.
Using my Museum ticket I was free to go at my own pace. A circuit of the palace takes you through a sequence of splendour, each ceiling a work of art, the walls bathed in beauty. The culmination is a view down into the hall from the second floor. Breathtaking!
Through realms of fantasy, pomp and splendour to Eleanora’s private apartments and chapel. Did ever a family live in such style?
And then the Room of the Elements. You don’t have to be an art lover to be spellbound by this place. Not for everybody, the style and eloquence of the de Medici’s. But you can’t help but be snared by the imagination and sheer daring of these people.
I don’t want to spoil it for you by revealing more. I can only urge that if you find yourself in Florence, you dedicate a little time to Palazzo Vecchio. You can take a number of tours that delve deeper into the history, or simply do as I did. And it is a simply splendid place to be Atop Florence.