I have to start out by saying that I have now been to Florence three times, and I have walked passed the Palazzo Vecchio a countless amount of times in the regular comings and goings of my Florentine life, but this was the FIRST time I had ever gone into see the Museo Palazzo Vecchio! The Palazzo Vecchio is one of the oldest, completely surviving structures in Florence, and has been the civic center of the city for over seven centuries!! It is still a working town hall to this day!
My friend and I decided to make our visit on a Wednesday last week, which if you know anything about major tourist attractions anywhere, it’s basically suicide as far as getting trapped in large crowds … BUT, much to our surprise the museum was totally quiet!! I’m not sure if the quietness was just circumstantial to that day and time, or if it’s usually quiet because the Palazzo Vecchio isn’t on the “must see” museums list like the Uffizi or Academia are. We only had time to go through the museum part, but there is so much more to see! You can go down into the ancient ruins that the current structure was built on, and you can go up into the turrets and tower for a slightly increased ticket fee. The Palazzo Vecchio also has tons of daily tours they offer, see them here! I definitely want to go back to see the ruins, and I have my eye on the “secret passages” tour and the “Inferno” tour.
In a brief history of the building: at the end of the 13th century, the former governmental building of the Bargello was becoming too small for the elected officials of the region as the population was growing. In 1299 it was announced that Arnolfo di Cambio, the architect of Santa Maria del Fiore and Santa Croce, would lead the project to build a new civic building as the seat of the Florentine Republic, as it stayed until the mid-sixteenth century. Later during the Duchy and Grand Duchy of Florence, Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici moved his official seat from the Palazzo Medici to the Palazzo della Signoria (its name at the time) in May 1540. When he and his family moved finally to the Palazzo Pitti, he renamed the building to the the Palazzo Vecchio, or Old Palace. In the 19th century during the unification of Italy, the Palazzo Vecchio gained new importance as Italy’s seat of the provisional government from 1865–71, when Florence was the capital of the Kingdom of Italy.
As we walked up the several flights of steps to get up to the museum (are you noticing a pattern here??!) we arrived into the Salone dei Cinquecento (Hall of the Five Hundred), the main gathering room of the Palazzo Vecchio. The enormous size of the room is enough to make you stop in your tracks, but combined with the enormous wall frescoes, ceiling paintings by Giorgio Vasari, and all of that gilding that spans the entire ceiling, I definitely was in total awe, mouth open and everything!
The artworks in the room have an interesting story. In the first years of the 1500’s, Michelangelo and Leonardo were commissioned to create frescoes for the walls, but unfortunately, neither artists commission came to be. Michelangelo received an invitation from Pope Julius II to paint the ceiling of a small chapel in Vatican City; (maybe you’ve head of it, the Sistine Chapel 😏). Leonardo on the other hand, who was always experimenting with new methods and materials, began his fresco of The Battle of Anghiari, but due to his improper technical experimentation, the painting never survived. A legend exists that Vasari, wanting to preserve Da Vinci’s work, had a false wall built over The Battle of Anghiari before he began his fresco, which we see today. Attempts made to find Da Vinci’s original work behind the Vasari fresco have so far been inconclusive. The wall frescoes and ceiling paintings we see today were painting by Giorgio Vasari, and depict Florence’s military victories over Pisa and Siena, their medieval rivals in the Tuscan region.
BUT, this room was just the beginning of an incredible museum. The subsequent meeting rooms, offices, chapels, and decorative arts seemed to get more opulent and striking than the next!
I’ve probably overwhelmed you with history and information by now, so in conclusion, the Museo Palazzo Vecchio was absolutely stunning, and I already can’t wait to go back for the offered tours and to see the ancient ruins. Make sure you add the MPV onto your list when you next visit Florence!
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