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Eastern Florence- Piazza della Signoria and Palazzo Vecchio

The Palazzo Vecchio dominates the Piazza della Signoria (Picture 1), Renaissance sculptures embellish the piazza and historic cafes flank its sides. It is no doubt a picture-postcard image which has remained an important centre in Florence’s history. It was the meeting point in many of the turning points in Florence’s history and the setting where people were summoned to hold a referendum to vote in favour or against a fraction or another. This piazza saw Savonarola burning part of the legacy of books and arts of the Medici at the end of the 15th century in what he called the “Bonfire of Vanities”. It was also his own blazing bonfire in which he was sentenced to death.
A commemorative plaque is placed in the fire´s spot in front of the Fontana di Nettuno by Ammannati, adorned with satyrs, gods and goddesses, but to all accounts, quite unattractive. Other statues are much more interesting such as Giambologna’s Cosimo I, a reproduction of David, occupying the place where the original used to be, reproductions of the heraldic lion of Florence and Judith and Holofernes by Donatello.
The Loggia dei Lanzi sits opposite these beauties. This arcade dating back to the 14th century houses the Rape of the Sabine Women by Giambologna, Perseus by Benvenuto Cellini and Seven Virtues by Agnolo Gaddi, made in the 14th and 16th century. The building was named after the Lanzichenecchi, Cosimo I’s bodyguards, whose station was and is (at least symbolically, for they stay in there) this loggia. The Florentines congregate here before heading out on a passeggiata and tourists snap endless photographs amongst the statues.

Palazzo Vecchio (Picture 2 and 3), the centre of political decisions operated in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Its creations are Arnolfo di Cambio´s work, including the Torre d’Arnolfo and the impressive crenellations built between the end of the 13th century and the first years of the 14th century. It was the temporary home of the nine consuls chosen randomly for their two-month office.
In the 16th century it became Cosimo I and his family’s home and the seat of government. Vasari was in charge of renovating it, but the family decided to move to the recently purchased Palazzo Pitti which became their permanent residence after the death of Cosimo I’s wife and two sons. It was then that the Palazzo took the name Palazzo Vecchio (tel. 055 276 82 24; www.palazzovecchio-museoragazzi.it; open 9am, to 7pm Fri-Wed, to 2 Thu).  Today It is still the seat of the local government.
To make the most of its interiors it is advised to take up a guided tour. One of its main attractions is the Sala Grande also known as the Salone dei Cinquecento (Hall of the Five Hundred) built for the numerous councils which took political decisions in the last part of the 15th century. It is enthroned by Genius of Victory by Michelangelo, not finished by the master as he died while still painting it. This enormous room was decorated by Vasari and his students and the frescoes cover the whole height of the wall. The scenes depict Cosimo I beating Pisa and Siena. The ceilings, which at the time were made 7 metres higher, a commission given to Vasari and consulted with Michelangelo, depict Cosimo I as a god. It is truly captivating.
Near this enormous room is the Chapel of SS Cosmas and Damian housing a triptych panel by Vasari in which Cosimo the Elder and Cosimo I represent both saints respectively. Next door is the Sala di Leo X, where Giovanni de’Medici, who would later become pope, used to stay.
Upstairs are the apartments of Eleonora di Toledo and her ladies-in-waiting, luxuriously decorated and mirroring the splendour the Medici used to live in. Highlights are Bronzinos’s colourful and bright frescoes adorning the chapel and Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio’s green room’s ceilings which were modelled on Nero’s Domus Aurea.
On the same level, the Sala dei Gigli houses the original Judith and Holofernes by Donatello. The room is painted with a frieze composed of a fleurs-de-lis, symbol of the Republic of Florence. Also in the same room is a fresco with Roman personalities by Ghirlandaio.
Near the Sala dei Gigli is Niccolò Machiavelli’s study. The Sala delle Carte Geografiche keeps the maps that Cosimo I collected in the 16th century, which by then was the most update.
Only by means of a tour guide is it possible to visit the secret passages and rooms. A group of up to 12 can walk along the tunnel especially constructed for Walter de Brienne, Duke of Athens, self proclaimed Lord of Florence in the 14th century who was soon expelled by the Florentines. There is also a secret treasury for Cosimo I, where he kept his private collection and a study for Francesco I adorned by Vasari and Mannerist artists´work. In this study there are 20 cabinets hidden by the artists’ creations which kept Francesco ‘s collections.
Children can have a special tour in which actors in period costumes re-enact and interact with them while comparing and contrasting the traditional with today´s customs.
Tours to the museum can be reserved the day before the tour by e-mail (info.museoragazzi@comune.fi.it) or on the telephone (tel. 055 276 82 24).
You can pay for a guided tour to the museum added to the admission ticket (visits: 9.30am, 12.30, 3.30 and 6.30pm Mon, Wed and Fri; 9.30am 12.30pm Thu, 10am 1.30, 3 and 6.30pm weekends).