Palazzo Vecchio. City Hall in Florence, Italy

Palazzo Vecchio

City Hall in Florence, Italy

Palazzo Vecchio Courtyard Photo © Richard Cassan

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Palazzo Vecchio

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palazzo vecchio - Palazzo Vecchio
palazzo vecchio - Palazzo Vecchio. Photo by Giuseppe Moscato
The Palazzo Vecchio, which literally means ‘Old Palace’, is the city hall of Florence, Italy. It was built at the turn of the 14th century as the Palazzo de Popolo or the ‘Palace of the People’. A huge fortress-like Romanesque palace with crenelated walls, this city hall is one of the most beautiful in all of Tuscany. The Palazzo Vecchio dominates Piazza della Signoria in the heart of the city, a square that is also home to a copy of the statue of David by Michelangelo and a gallery of sculptures. The square is nothing less than breathtaking and arguably one of the greatest in Italy.

The city hall has had several names throughout its history, depending on what it was used for. Besides Palazzo del Popolo it was also known as ‘Palazzo della Signoria’, ‘Palazzo dei Priori’, and ‘Palazzo Ducale’. It received its present-day name when the duke’s residence moved to the Pitti Palace across the Arno (Wikipedia Article) River.

The looks of the building haven’t change a whole lot since it was built in the early 14th century. It consists of stone walls with Gothic windows that are adorned with the Florentine’s republic’s coats of arms. Several sculptures can be seen around the building; the façade is decorated with medallions.

Palazzo Vecchio Night 09 - Palazzo
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Palazzo Vecchio Night 09. Photo by charleswangdpm

Mural Detail in the
	Palazzo Vecchio Quartieri Monumentali 4 - Palazzo Vecchio
Mural Detail in the Palazzo Vecchio Quartieri Monumentali 4 - Palazzo Vecchio. Photo by Mary Harrsch

History

The Palazzo Vecchio’s first stone was laid in 1299. This happened shortly after the people and government of Florence had decided that there was a need for a new palace and governmental offices. They wanted a building that reflected the wealth and power of the growing city and that would also offer protection to magistrates in turbulent times. The oldest part of the building was designed by the at-the-time famous architect Arnolfo di Cambio (Wikipedia Article), who had previously designed the Santa Groce Church and Florence Cathedral. He incorporated the ancient tower that once belonged to the Foraboschi family into the palace, which is why the tower is not centered. The design was simple: the building was shaped as a cube with high walls and high windows. The old tower enhanced the design beautifully.

In the 15th and 16th centuries, several features were added to the building, such as the crenelated battlements, bas-reliefs and murals and frescoes. The two most famous Florentine artists of the time were commissioned to decorate the interior: Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. Unfortunately none of their works was completed. Later on, after Duke Cosimo de’Medici had turned the palace into their residence in 1540, the interior became even more splendidly decorated. The palace now consisted of numerous rooms and chambers, courtyards, terraces and apartments. All rooms were decorated by Michelangelo – this time he finished –, Vasari and Donatello. Cosimo also moved the governmental seat to the Uffizi and commissioned the Vasari Corridor across the Ponte Vecchio.

Nowadays, most of the Palazzo Vecchio is a museum, but the seat of the mayor of Florence and the City Council is still there as well.

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Palazzo Vecchio. Photo by Sarah-Rose

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Florence - Palazzo Vecchio. Photo by Riccardo Cuppini

Features

The initial design of the Palazzo Vecchio included a main section that held the City Council; other areas contained apartments, residences and elaborate halls. The exterior of the building looks like a fortress; a series of statues stands in front of the palace.

Bell Tower

The Torre di Arnolfo (Arnolfo’s Tower) was named after the building’s architect. It is one of the most impressive medieval towers in Florence. The tower is 94 meters high, which was quite a feat in medieval times, and is still the city’s highest civic building. Visitors can walk the 416 steps to the top for jaw-dropping views of the city.

Entrance

Flanked by two lions in a field of blue, the Monogram of Christ medallion adorns the main entrance. This beautiful marble frontispiece is one of the highlights of the palace. The text “Rex regum et Dominus dominantium” (“King of Kings and Lord of Lords”) was meant to remind the City Council that Christ was the only true ruler.

Courtyards

The main inner courtyard dates back to 1453, when it was designed by Michelozzi Michelozzo. In the middle stands the Putto with Dolphin statue, a copy of the original by del Verrocchio, which can be admired on the palace’s second floor. The surrounding walls are decorated with beautiful frescoes.

The two other courtyards contain enormous pillars that support the second floor and were mainly used as offices.

Great Hall - Palazzo
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Great Hall - Palazzo Vecchio. Photo by Steve Jurvetson

Hall of the Five Hundred

Two massive monumental stairways, designed by Vasari, lead up to the Salone dei Cinquento on the first floor. This huge hall was built in 1494 during the Republic of Savonarola, who had taken over the rule of the city after the exile of the Medicis. It is the largest and most impressive room in the entire palace and is of immense historical and artistic value. Measuring 54 meters long, 23 meters wide, and 18 meters high, the hall consists of paneled ceilings, frescoes; sculptures, murals; extravagant tapestries, and golden decorations. Artists that worked on this room were da Vinci, Vasari, and Michelangelo. It must be one of the most breathtaking medieval rooms in the world.

The Quarter of the Elements

The Sala degli Elementi is made up of five separate rooms and two open corridors. These apartments, which was designed by del Tasso and finished by Vasari, were the private chambers of Duke Cosimo de’Medici. Allegorical frescoes fill the rooms, depicting water, fire and Earth. The fresco on the ceiling depicts Saturn.

The Green Room

The Sala Verde got its name because of its green walls. One of many smaller rooms on the second floor, the Green Room is also decorated with frescoes and paintings. It lies next to a small chapel.

Chapel of the Signoria

This magnificent chapel is lavishly decorated with murals, frescoes on golden backgrounds, carved ceilings, marble pillars, bas-reliefs, etcetera. This was where the rulers would come to seek divine help. It is also where Savonarola said his last prayers before he was hanged on the Piazza della Signoria.

Audience Chamber

Containing the oldest decoration in the entire palace, the Sala dell’Udienza was where the council meeting took place. Particularly worth seeing is the carved coffer ceiling that is decorated with pure gold. Again, huge frescoes decorate the walls.

Hall of Geographical Maps

This room contained the precious possessions of the Medici Dukes. It consists of several cabinets, all decorated with extraordinary maps. These maps are in fact oil paintings, executed by the monk, Fra Ignazio Danti, and provide a fantastic overview of geographical knowledge in the 1500s.

Old Chancellery

This room on the second floor is the location of the original Putto with Dolphin, brought there from the main courtyard below. The Old Chancellery was the room where Machiavelli worked when he was Secretary of the Republic.

Mezzanine

The Mezzanine is located between the first and second floor and was created by lowering the ceilings of a few first-floor rooms. These are the only rooms that still have their original 14th- and 15th-century ceilings. The Mezzanine now houses the Loeser Collection, a great collection of Medieval and Renaissance objects donated by the American art collector,Charles Loeser.

Florence - Palazzo Vecchio - great hall -
	Palazzo Vecchio
Florence - Palazzo Vecchio - great hall. Photo by Eusebius@Commons


Secret passage way
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Secret passage way in Palazzo Vecchio - Palazzo Vecchio. Photo by Josh Kramer

Visiting the Palazzo Vecchio

The Palazzo Vecchio Museum and Tower can be visited on self-guided and guided tours. Visitors can choose from several guided tours, including the Palazzo Vecchio with a Tablet, the Tour of the Secret Passages, and the Tour of the Monumental Quarters.

From Roman ruins and a Medieval fortress to Renaissance paintings and fantastic panoramic views, the palace has a lot to offer. It is no surprise that this is one of Florence’s biggest attractions.

Tickets to the Palazzo Vecchio Museum cost €10 ($12) for adults and €8 ($9.20) concession. The Palazzo Vecchio Tower costs the same. Visitors who want to visit both can buy combined tickets, which cost €14 ($16) for adults and €12 ($14) concession. It is also good to know that when it rains, the tower is closed, but the battlement can still be visited. Children younger than 6 year old aren’t allowed to climb the tower; climbing is not recommended for people who have heart problems or asthma. People under 18 years old must be accompanied by an adult. All attractions are free to visit for people younger than 18, disabled visitors, and students groups and their teachers.

There are different opening times for all attractions in the palace. From April through September, the museum is open every day of the week, except on Thursday, from 9AM to midnight; on Thursday it is open between 9AM and 2PM. From October through March, it’s open every day, except Thursday, from 9AM to 7PM; on Thursday the museum is open between 9AM and 2PM.

The tower is open from April through September between 9AM and 9PM, except on Thursday when it is open from 9AM to 2PM. From October through March, the Tower can be visited every day between 10AM and 5PM, except on Thursday when it is open from 10AM to 2PM.

People who want to visit to Roman ruins are required to make reservations. Those opening hours change regularly, so it is advised to be informed.

Palazzo Vecchio -
	Palazzo Vecchio
Palazzo Vecchio - Palazzo Vecchio. Photo by Eric Parker

How to Get There

Located in the heart of Florence, the Palazzo Vecchio isn’t hard to find. The museum can be accessed via the main entrance at Piazza della Signoria or via the side entrance on Via dei Gondi, which is wheelchair accessible.

Similar and Nearby Landmarks

Nearby Florentine landmarks are the magnificent Florence Cathedral, the beauty of a bridge that is the Ponte Vecchio and the Boboli Gardens.

Other famous city halls in Europe include the Brussels Town Hall, the Hôtel de Ville in Paris, and the Town Hall Vienna.

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Author: bramreusen. Last updated: Feb 23, 2015

Pictures of Palazzo Vecchio

Inside Palazzo Vecchio - Palazzo Vecchio
Inside Palazzo Vecchio - Photo by Christine und Hagen Graf

Palazzo Vecchio - Palazzo Vecchio
Palazzo Vecchio - Photo by Sarah-Rose

Palazzo Vecchio - Palazzo Vecchio
Palazzo Vecchio - Photo by Sarah-Rose

Palazzo Vecchio - Palazzo Vecchio
Palazzo Vecchio - Photo by Sarah-Rose

Vasari Corridor - Palazzo Vecchio
Vasari Corridor - Palazzo Vecchio. Photo by mathrong

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