A journey through the places of power of the Medici family in Florence
Later, in 1540, Cosimo I de Medici and his consort, Eleonora of Toledo, chose Palazzo Vecchio, originally Palazzo Dei Priori, as the family’s private residence and court. The name ‘Palazzo Vecchio’ was given to it when the ducal residence was moved to Palazzo Pitti.
When the Medici court dwelled there (1540 – 1550), changes to the structure were made at the behest of Cosimo I. The renovations were entrusted to Battista del Tasso and later Giorgio Vasari, although other noteworthy artists also contributed.
Externally, the palace conveys the impression of solidity thanks to the rusticated ashlar finish. The façade is divided into three main floors, marked by string-course cornices emphasising two rows of neo-Gothic marble mullioned windows with trefoil arches, added in the 18th century to replace the original ones.
The old part is crowned by a projecting gallery characterised by Guelph-type battlements (with a squared top), while the tower has Ghibelline (‘swallowtail’) battlements. Beneath the gallery were decorations of sculpted heads, human or animal, of which a few bronze specimens are still visible. At the height of the statues, between the arches, were embrasures that could be used, for defensive purposes, to throw boiling oil or stones at possible invaders. In the four corners of the gallery were niches with stone lions. The French window and terrace were added later.
The coats of arms found under the arches of the gallery were painted in 1353 and symbolise particular aspects of the Florentine Republic. The nine coats of arms are repeated twice on the façade, and two coats of arms are also visible on the left side.
Upon entering, the palace has three courtyards. The first, which is accessed through the main door leading onto Piazza Della Signoria, was designed in 1453 by Michelozzo but was profoundly transformed by Vasari in 1565, on the occasion of the wedding between Francesco I (son of Cosimo I) and Giovanna of Austria, sister of Emperor Maximilian II, and took on a much more exuberant, mannerist style. In the centre of the courtyard, a porphyry fountain replaced the well, designed by Vasari, possibly in collaboration with Bartolomeo Ammannati. The oldest bronze statue of the Putto with a dolphin by Andrea del Verrocchio (c. 1470) was placed on the fountain in 1557, later moved in 1959 to the second floor of the palazzo and replaced in the courtyard by a copy.
The second is also known as the customs courtyard because, in the 15th century, the customs offices were located here. The third, also known as the New Courtyard, was formerly decorated with an external loggia and gallery, now it is open, and the municipal offices are located here.
Inside are numerous rooms, including: The Salone Dei Cinquecento, an imposing room 54 metres long and 23 metres wide, was built in 1494 by Simone del Pollaiolo, known as Il Cronaca, on commission by Savonarola, who wanted to make it the seat of the Major Council, composed of more than 1,500 citizens, who would meet in turn in groups of 500. When it became a Medici residence, it was enlarged by Vasari so that Cosimo I could use it as a court hall.
The Quartieri Monumentali, richly decorated rooms celebrating the Medici family, and the Leo X and Clement VII rooms have recently been made open to the public. Other rooms dedicated to the de Medici family members are the Hall of Cosimo, the Elder, the Hall of Lorenzo the Magnificent, and the Hall of Cosimo.
This transformed the Palace into an intricate labyrinth of finely decorated staterooms and flats, airy terraces and painted courtyards adorned with statues.
From this wing of the Palazzo (Sala Verde), the so-called Vasari Corridor was built in 1565, connecting the palazzo with Palazzo Vecchio via the church of Santa Felicita, Ponte Vecchio and the Uffizi Gallery.
The last city residence of the family we will observe is Palazzo Pitti.