Stories from the Palazzo (Vecchio)
It’s a massive fortress-palace overlooking the splendid Piazza della Signoria and it has been for over seven centuries the seat of the local city government and one of the most famous symbols of Florence! Built in the early 1300s for the Priors -or municipal councilmen- of the ruling body of the Florentine Commune, it has been modified and enlarged throughout the centuries, especially during the time that the Medici family ruled over the city.
Cosimo I de’ Medici asked his favorite architect Giorgio Vasari to enlarge the palace in the middle of the 1500s, and it was at this time that the palace became known as the “old palace”. Today, Palazzo Vecchio is still home to the major and to city government, but it is also a splendid museum that we highly recommend you visit. Entering Palazzo Vecchio you’ll take a marvelous trip back in time across 7 centuries of history!
The palace was originally known as Palazzo della Signoria, as the “ Signoria” was the name of the city government before the Medici rule: a city-Republic, where the citizens had Rome as their model, an elite voting population and elected offices. The Florentines decided to create a system of government which could never let anyone gain enough power to take over, and so they conceived the Signoria or council of elected rulers begun in 1282. While in office, the rulers were held within the palace and never permitted to leave, since outside they could be kidnapped and contaminated by the different lobbies. The apartments of the Signoria, decorated with painted wooden ceilings, were and still are on the top floor (Prior’s Apartments). The ground floor was originally open, a place where people could gather and talk and trade. It was later closed in, so a garrison could defend the palace from attack. On the lower levels, representatives of the people receive the laws sent down by the Signoria, and could vote to accept or reject them.
There was a prison in the tower, and if someone was imprisoned there, that means it was really bad for him!. A completely unfounded urban legend holds that the swallow tails battlements on top of the tower, associated with the defeated Ghibelline faction in contrast with square battlements used by Guelphs, represented the Ghibelline traitors imprisoned there. A true story is that of the arrest and enprisonment of Cosimo the Elder Medici in the tower : he was the wealthiest citizen of Florence thanks to his successful banking business. And then he applies wealth to politics! So he directly perverted and controlled the Republic. However it was a very good thing for Florence since Cosimo’s unofficial rule lent great stability, and he spent his enormous wealth on architecture, public art and libraries giving hi personal and very high contribution to the glory of Florence. In 1433 Cosimo was arrested and imprisoned in that same Palazzo Vecchio tower where so many dangerous traitors and possible tyrants enjoyed their last panoramic view of the city . Cosimo escaped, bribing the cell guard with 300 florins and the captain with 700 florins, and it is also reported to have said they were the two stupidest men he had met in his life since he was the wealthiest man in Florence and would have happily paid tens of thousands of florins for his liberty! At the next election all the members of the new Signoria decided to invite him back.
The Medicis then, after having been opposed and thrown out from Florence again , increased the family power and prestige having got two popes elected in the family. Under protection of the Spaniards they marched in, got rid of the Signoria and in 1531 finally had themselves crowned Dukes. They moved in to the Palace, literally occupying the Signoria’s seat and this was the permanent end of the Republic. The old palace needed to be redone, and it was Vasari’s job to turn this icon of the long-loved Republic into a symbol of the new glorious Medici monarchy. The palace was redecorated by Vasari and his assistants with new frescoes and ceilings showing the Medici’s military victories in Tuscany (Hall of the Five Hundreds), the stories of the most famous members of the family (Apartments of Pope Leo X, Cosimo the Elder, Lorenzo the Magnificent at the first floor), other stories of the Greek and Roman Gods and Goddessess and Allegories of the Four Elements (Apartments at the second floor). Bronzino, who was the favourite painter of Cosimo I’s wife Eleonora di Toledo, decorated her private chapel with stunning mannerist frescoes, while the ceilings of the other rooms of her apartment were decorated with stories of classical heroines celebrated for "equalling men's virtue", by Vasari’s assistants.
Palazzo Vecchio is one of the best places of Florence to visit with children as dramatised tours and educational workshops are organized for children and adults, broken down into different age groups (For other information and programmes: www.musefirenze.it +39 055-276 8224 - +39 055-276 8558 (mon-sat 9,30-13,00/14,00-17,00 sun/ 9,30-12,30, [email protected] fax.+39 055-261 6795)
Palazzo Vecchio is at 1st Place of the TOP TEN HISTORICAL SITES (Anedocte : On one of the stones of the Palazzo Vecchio, overlooking Piazza Signoria, is the engraved sketch of a man’s profile, called the Intruder. Legend has it that the engraving is a portrait, made by Michelangelo Buonarroti, depicting a prisoner condemned to death and executed in public. It is said that the artist was talking to a man who often came to narrate all of his problems near the Palazzo Vecchio and having be stopped already by this person several times, he didn’t listen to him anymore and carved the portrait with hands behind his back.