Palazzo Vecchio, Florence – Tuscan Treasure Chest (05.07.15)
Even the most casual of visitors arriving at Piazza della Signoria in the heart of Florence soon know they have stumbled upon something special.
Whether it is the hugely impressive Renaissance sculptures (including a reproduction of Michelangelo’s David, and gallery statues in the arched Loggia dei Lanzi) that stand guard like Beefeaters at the Tower of London, or the colossal castle-rampart-style Clock Tower that gazes down from a height of 94m, the feeling of stepping back into the Republic of Florence is overwhelming.
Palazzo Vecchio, the city’s Palace – originally called the Palazzo della Signoria – stands in the Piazza’s corner below the Bell Tower: palatial, solid and stuffed to the brim with historic goodies. There is a constant buzz of excitement in the Piazza, which varies depending on the time of day. Starting with an early morning murmur as shop keepers and locals begin their daily commute and setting-up routine, it gives way to a hubbub with the business of serving visitors with ice creams, guide books, sun hats, knowledgeable guides and selfie-sticks. By the time night falls, the whole of Florence descends onto this part of the Old Town. Young parents with prams, excited teenagers and senior citizens with time to spare, stories to share and people to watch.
The constant burble of activity and excitement in the Piazza seems to act as a prelude to a Palace visit itself. Such is the hustle and bustle outside, that the Palazzo Vecchio takes on the appearance of a sturdy toy box in the corner of a giant playroom. The moment you walk through the palace’s entrance it soon becomes apparent that you have entered not so much a toy box, but an elaborate treasure chest stuffed with gold and all that glitters. It is far more exquisite and mystical than simply being the functional Town Hall of Florence, though if you look behind half-open doors you will see that it does still operate as the municipal theatre of administration.
It is a wonderful living museum and home to an extraordinary collection of historic and artistic exhibits. A ‘must see’ for any visitor to the capital of Tuscany and birthplace of the Renaissance.
Built as a fortress in 1299 upon the first century AD theatre of the Roman colony of Florentia, the Palazzo Vecchio, you soon realise, is where the people of Florence have been collecting, stockpiling and now thankfully exhibiting some of the most beautiful artefacts in all of Europe. Set among giant halls, brightly panelled ceilings, enormous frescos and a never-ending warren of Renaissance chambers, the inexhaustible supply of treasure is mind-boggling.
These images, which I captured during my visit earlier this year, cover a multitude of exhibits, activities and views. Many well known, others less so. From the three Entrance Courtyards, Salone dei Cinquecento chamber and Studiolo on the first floor, to the Apartments of the Elements, Terrace of Saturn, Hercules Room, Lion House, Room of Jupiter and Chapel of the Signoria et al higher up, the magic of the Palazzo Vecchio unravels before you.
As a traveller at heart, my favourite is the Hall of Geographical Maps, with its remarkable collection of mid-16thcentury decorated maps and huge mappa mundi globe.
If you listen carefully, you can hear the echo of the Dominican monk Fra Ignazio Danti, who painted the maps, discussing how best to navigate, travel and explore the then known world.