Seven centuries after its completion the Palazzo Vecchio continues to serve as the Town Hall of Florence. But far from a mundane official city council building, this palace houses many important works of art. From the little Studiolo of Francesco I to the huge tower, the entire complex is breathtaking.
Begun in 1299 the building was expanded in the mid-14th century and again at the end of the 15th, then still again in the 16th. Once home to the powerful Cosimo Medici, it served as a political center for years after. It regained that status once again in 1875. Once a practical fortress, today it stands as one of the city’s official centers while holding one of the finest storehouses of artistic treasures.
The courtyards alone offer enough to enrapture visitors for hours. The Putto with Dolphin sits in a fountain whose waters are piped all the way from the Boboli gardens. The frescoes around the walls depict scenes of the Austrian Hapsburg estates, showing the relationship between the Florentines and their northern neighbors. That bond was cemented by the wedding between the eldest son of Cosimo the Elder and the sister of Emperor Maximilian.
Visitors will want to spend some time in the Salone dei Cinquecento. Once a grand hall of the Grand Duke Cosimo I, they offer modern viewers a look at some of the Pallazzo Vecchio’s finest frescoes. Scenes depicting The Taking of Siena and Pisa Attacked by the Florentines are only two among many extolling the ruler’s military adventures.
There are many small side rooms to explore within the palace-fortress, too.
The Hercules Room contains several paintings on the ceiling that present the heroic exploits of the mythical Greek hero. The Room of Jupiter has a fresco of the Roman god on the ceiling, but the most outstanding features are the superb 14th century tapestries on the walls. The Ceres Room contains more tapestries of the period, these displaying hunting scenes. Perhaps best of all is the Room of Cybele with its cabinets made from tortoise shell and bronze.
The view from the Terrazza di Saturno (on the second floor) provides a look at structures below that fill one with the same wondrous feeling as the objects within. Nearby is the apartment of Eleonora of Toledo, wife of Cosimo. Foremost among the many superb sights here is the fresco by Bronzino painted in the mid-16th century. The Chapel of Signoria, including the frescoes on the walls of the Hall of Liles, is another must-see element of the palace.
Not far away is the Sala delle Carte, the map room, holding a collection of historical globes and over 50 maps painted on leather. They provide insight into the world as it was known circa 1563.
From the top one can overlook the Piazza della Signoria and see a copy of Michelangelo’s statue of David, along with the statues in the Loggia dei Lanzi.
Take your time walking back down and explore all the nooks and crannies on the way. Every square inch has something worth seeing.