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Palazzo Vecchio (Palazzo della Signoria), Florence

Palazzo Vecchio (Palazzo della Signoria)Palazzo Vecchio (Palazzo della Signoria) View slideshow
The austere beauty of the city and the pride and tenacity of the people of Florence are embodied in the Palazzo Vecchio (or della Signoria) in a unique way.
The city's principal palace came into existence when Florence was beginning its rise to power and greatness, was a witness to the decades of its artistic and cultural heyday, and stayed on as the symbol of its glorious past. The defiant fortress-like structure of the main building serves to express the power exercised by the Florentine community from the 14th to the 16th century; its bold and lofty tower (94m/308ft), with its clock dating from 1353, symbolizes the fierce pride of the people of Florence, while the furnishings within the palace reflect their love of art.
Arnolfo di Cambio is said to have begin the building (1299-1314). Thereafter several patrons and architects (Michelozzo) were responsible for modifying the work and for the additions and alterations. Initially the palace was the official residence of the Priors (Palazzo dei Priori) and the Gonfaloniere, which therefore made it the seat of the governing body of the Republic, the "Signoria". Its other names, Palazzo del Popolo and Palazzo del Comune, are accounted for by the republican-democratic nature of Florence, even when it was ruled by the Medici, although they governed from their palace, the Palazzo Medici. It was Cosimo I, Duke then Grand Duke of Tuscany, who moved into the city's principal palace in 1540, after which it was known as the Palazzo Ducale (Ducal Palace). Soon, however, he moved into the Palazzo Pitti, so the name of Palazzo Vecchio (old palace) became current. Between 1865 and 1872, during the Italian struggle for unity, it was for a while the seat of the Government, the Chamber of Deputies and the Foreign Ministry. Thereafter it became the equivalent of the City Hall, and the state rooms were thrown open to the public as a museum.
Address: Piazza della Signoria, I-50100 Florence, Italy
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Palazzo Vecchio (Palazzo della Signoria) Highlights

Exterior

To the left of the main entrance is a copy of Donatello's Marzocco, the heraldic lion of Florence with the city's coat of arms between its paws, and next to it a copy of Donatello's bronze statue of "Judith and Holofernes". The original is to be found in the Sala del Gigli. On the right is a copy of Michelangelo's "David" and a marble statue of Hercules and Cacus by Bandinelli (1533). Directly beneath the battlemented gallery are frescoes showing the coats of arms of the communes of Florence.

Ground Floor

The ground floor has three courtyards, the armory and the great stairs that lead to the upper floors. The first courtyard and the armory are especially interesting.

Primo Cortile

The small inner courtyard, the "Primo Cortile", was redesigned by Michelozzo in 1470 (magnificent columns!). In the center is a graceful fountain with a putto and dolphin (1476), a copy of the original by Verrocchio which is now inside the palace on the second floor. Around the top of the walls are 18 large townscapes, painted on the occasion of the wedding of Francesco de'Medici and Johanna of Austria (1565). Beneath the arcade can be seen Perino da Vinci's marble group "Samson and the Philistine".

Camera dell'Arme

The armory is worth visiting as it is the only room to have survived from the 14th century palace.

Scalone del Vasari

The great staircase is by Vasari (1560-1563).

Salone dei Cinquecento

This vast room 53.7m/176ft long, 22.4m/71.5ft high and 18.7m/61.3ft wide, is the work of Simone del Pollaiolo, known as Cronaca (1495). The walls were once decorated by two famous paintings, Michelangelo's "Soldiers Bathing" and Leonardo's "Battle of Anghiari", but both have been lost. The ceiling is divided into 39 panels richly decorated with allegories and scenes from the history of Florence and of the Medici family.
On the left is what is known as the "Audience Room", which was reserved for receptions and official ceremonies, with niches containing statues of the Medici: Cosimo I, Pope Leo X, Giovanni delle Bande Nere, Alessandro, Pope Clement VII, Franceso I (by Bandinelli, de'Rossi and Caccini).
Against the opposite wall is Michelangelo's famous "Genius of Victory" ("Genio della Vittoria", 1532-1534), which was probably executed for the tomb of Pope Julius II in Rome. The statue shows the artist's supremely confident mastery in his shaping of the marble and his creative genius in the beauty and movement of the body. In the alcoves next to this are Roman statues: Ganymede, Mercury, Apollo and Bacchus.
Paintings, frescoes, statues ("Hercules" by Vincenzo de'Rossi) and tapestries complete the room's furnishings.

Quartiere di Leone X

Leo X's quarters lead off from the Salone dei Cinquecento (on the opposite side of the entrance, right). Today this is where the mayor and city council have their offices.

Studiolo di Francesco I de'Medici

To the right of the entrance a door leads to Francesco I's study, designed by Vasari and richly decorated with paintings, frescoes and statues. Eminent painters (Poppi, Tito, Naldini) and sculptors (Giambologna: "Aeolus" or small Apollo) were employed on this "jewel casket" of Florentine late-Renaissance art.

Tesoretto

A secret staircase leads to the Tesoretto, Cosimo I's little study, with ceiling paintings by pupils of Vasari.
On the other side of the Salone dei Cinquecento are the Ricetto (anteroom), the Sala degli Otto di Pratica and the Sala del Dugento with a magnificently carved wooden ceiling by Michelozzo.

Second Floor

Sala dei Gigli
The Lily Room has a large fresco by Ghirlandaio (1481-1485). Today this room also contains the famous bronze group "Judith and Holofernes" by Donatello (1455-1460). It was decided in 1988, after extensive restoration, that it should no longer stand outside, and has been replaced by a replica on its former site at the main entrance.
Cancelleria
In the Chancellery of the Secretary of the Republic stands a bust of Niccolò Machiavelli and the original of Verrocchio's "Putto and Dolphin" (copy in the courtyard).
Guardaroba
The cloakroom is fitted out with beautiful wooden presses, painted with contemporary maps (1563-1575).
Sala dell'Udienza
The Audience Room has a richly carved ceiling (by Giuliano da Maiano) and frescoes (including figures by Domenico Ghirlandaio).
Cappella della Signoria
This contains a large fresco by Ridolfo Ghirlandaio.
Quartiere di Eleonora di Toledo
The quarters of Eleonora of Toledo, the consort of Cosimo I, who died young in 1562, consist of the Camera di Gualdrada (the fresco on the bedroom ceiling shows the young Florentine woman who refused to kiss Emperor Otto IV because that was her husband's prerogative); Camera di Penelope (story of Odysseus); Camera di Ester or Dining Room (head of Apollo and fine lavabo); Salotto with interesting historical illustrations; Camera delle Sabine (ceiling painting: the Sabine women resolve the conflict between their menfolk and the Romans); Camera Verde, the "Green Room", with an adjoining study, and Cappella di Eleonora (the paintings are by Bronzino).
Quartiere degli Elementi
The "Quarters of the Elements", with paintings by Vasari and his pupil Gherardi (1556-1566), consist of the Sala degli Elementi (allegories of Earth, Air, Fire and Water in the Mannerist style); Loggiato di Saturno (lovely view of Florence from the terrace); Camera di Ercole (scenes from the story of Hercules); Rooms of Juno, Jupiter, Cybele and Ceres, and a small writing room.
Ballatoio
From the "Ballatoio" it is possible to climb up to the tower room which affords a magnificent panoramic view of the city. The route to the top passes the Alberghettino, a prison cell, ironically christened the "little hotel", where Cosimo the Elder was incarcerated before he was sent into exile (1433) and where Savonarola was imprisoned for a few days in April 1498.
Quartiere del Mezzanino
The tour of the palace ends with a visit to the Quartiere del Mezzanino. The mezzanine, which Michelozzo created by lowering the ceilings, contains works from the Collezione Loeser (paintings and sculptures by 14th and 16th century Tuscan artists).

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