On rain-free days you can take the 418 steps up to the top to the Torre d’Arnolfo and enjoy spectacular views of the city
Found in the Piazza della Signoria, Palazzo Vecchio is a formidable fortress palace, capped by an unmistakeable, 94 metre crenellated tower. Designed by Arnolfo di Cambio for the city government, to this day it remains home to the mayor’s office and the municipal council.
The Republican Ideal
The inscription over the palace’s main door reads “Christ is the king” and served as a reminder that no mortal could hold absolute power. At the time the palace was built, nine consuls would be picked at random from members of the guild, and they would live in it. Every two months nine new names would be drawn, so no one ever had a chance to get comfy.
Things began to change in the 16th century when Cosimo I de’ Medici turned the Palazzo into one of the most luxurious ducal residences of the time. Michaelangelo’s sculpture Genio della Vittoria can be found inside in the Salone dei Cinquecento, a painted hall that was created for the council of 500 who ruled the city in the 15th century. This hall was commissioned in 1540 by Cosimo I, who tasked Vasari and his apprentices to glorify his victories for Florence over Pisa and Siena. He also requested that he be portrayed in god-like fashion in the centre of the panelled ceiling.
Also inside the palace is the Chapel of SS Cosmas and Damian, as well as the Sala di Leo X — which was home to Cardinal Giovanni de’ Medici, before he became pope in 1513. Upstairs you can see the Camera Verde, the ceiling of which was inspired by that of Nero’s Domus Aurea in Rome, and the Sala dei Gigli, which is home to Donatello’s Judith and Holofernes.
Map to the Stars
When he wasn’t glorifying himself through paintings, Cosimo I was an avid map collector. In the Sala delle Carte Geografiche you can see his collection of 16th century maps and get an idea of the scope of the known world at the time, from pole to pole.
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