At the end of the 13th century, the city decided to build a palace in order to ensure effective protection for its magistrates. The project was attributed to Arnolfo di Cambio, architect of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and of the Basilica of Santa Croce.
The palace, called Palazzo dei Priori, was built on the ruins of Palazzo dei Fanti and Palazzo dell’Esecutore di Giustizia, formerly owned by the Ghibelline family of the Uberti. Arnolfo di Cambio began the works in 1299, but the palace was completed after his death, in 1314.
On March 26, 1302, the palace became the seat of the Signoria (the city council headed by the Priors).
Between 1342 and 1343, the Duke of Athens, Gualtieri VI of Brienne, enlarged the palace towards Via della Ninna. Other important changes took place between 1440 and 1460 under Cosimo de’ Medici, when Sala dei Dugento was decorated in Renaissance style. Salone dei Cinquecento (Hall of the Five Hundred) was built in 1494 during the republic of Girolamo Savonarola.
Between 1540 and 1550, Palazzo Vecchio was the home of Cosimo I de’ Medici, who first commissioned Battista del Tasso and then Giorgio Vasari to further enlarge the palace.
The name was officially changed to Palazzo Vecchio when Cosimo moved to Palazzo Pitti in 1565. Vasari built a path, the Vasari Corridor, which still connects Palazzo Vecchio to Palazzo Pitti, crossing the Arno River on Ponte Vecchio.
Between 1865 and 1871, Florence became the capital of the Kingdom of Italy, and Palazzo Vecchio became the seat of the Parliament.
Today, Palazzo Vecchio is mainly a museum, but as a symbol of the local government still hosts the headquarters of the Municipality of Florence, the Mayor and the municipal council.
ART AND ARCHITECTURE
The main facade of the palace, covered by a rustic ashlar in sandstone, is divided into three floors by string courses, which underline two rows of Neo-Gothic mullioned windows with trefoil arches.
The palace is crowned by a prominent terrace supported by corbels on round arches, characterized by Guelph-type battlements, while the tower has Ghibelline battlements.
About 94 meters high, the tower is not centered on the facade, because it rests on a pre-existing house-tower, called Torre della Vacca (Tower of the Cow). The large clock was built by Nicolò Bernardo, but was replaced in 1667 with the one made by Giorgio Lederle of Augusta.
The raised platform in front of the building is the so-called Arengario, a place from which the Priors attended the ceremonies on the square. Since the 15th century, it was decorated with sculptures like the Marzocco and Giuditta and Oloferne by Donatello, David of Michelangelo near the entrance, and Hercules and Cacus by Baccio Bandinelli.
Above the main portal of the palace stands a decorative marble frontispiece dated 1528, with the radiated monogram of Christ, flanked by two lions.
The main courtyard of the palace was designed in 1453 by Michelozzo. In the center of the courtyard, there is a porphyry fountain by Battista del Tadda. The frescoes on the walls were painted in 1565 by Giorgio Vasari for the wedding celebration of Francesco I de’ Medici, the eldest son of Cosimo I. The barrel vaults are furnished with grotesque decorations.
Salone dei Cinquecento is the most imposing hall of the palace, with a length of 52 meters and a width of 23 meters. On the walls, there are large frescoes that depict battles and military victories by Florence over Pisa and Siena, and the ceiling consists of 39 panels painted by Vasari, representing Great Episodes from the life of Cosimo I.
HOW TO GET THERE
Palazzo Vecchio is located about 1.3 kilometers from the Santa Maria Novella railway station. The closest bus stop is Galleria Degli Uffizi, located about 100 meters away, in Piazza del Grano, on the bus Line C1.