Santa Croce Overview
The Palazzo Vecchio (Old Palace), formerly called the Palazzo della Signoria , is the Town Hall of Florence. The palace is located in Piazza della Signoria.
Its construction was commissioned to the illustrious architect Arnolfo di Cambio by the government of Florence at the end of the 13th century. The new building ought to have the required solidity to host the Signoria: the Priori (the city council) and the Gonfaloniere della Giustizia (the high magistrate) of Florence in a safe place which should allow repelling any probable attack against them in those times of internal politic revolts and hostilities between Florence and other Tuscan governments.
So Arnolfo di Cambio designed an imposing palace which looked almost like a fortress. Arnolfo di Cambio started the work in 1298 and it was concluded in 1314, twelve years after his death.
This defensive appearance was further increased with the first revision of its external features in 1342, ordered by Walter VI of Brienne, Count of Brienne and Duke of Athens.
The magnificent building is crowned by an enormous open gallery. From it foundations goes up a rectangular tower (height 95 m ca.). The tower is known as “Torre d’Arnolfo”, like the Christian name of the architect. The tower hosts two cells and a Campanile at the top with an enormous bell which was used to call for the citizens of Florence or to warn them in any adverse circumstance. In the visible birth of the tower - over the top gallery of the palace - a huge clock is enclosed. It was entrusted to Nicolò Bernardo and replaced in the second half of the 17th century by another clock made by Vincenzo Viviani.
In the second half of the 15th century, under the government of Cosimo de’ Medici the Elder, other modifications were made. He commissioned to his trustworthy architect Michelozzo the ornamentation of the “Salone dei Duecento” (Hall of the Two Hundred), as well as the construction of the first courtyard.
In 1494, at the times of the French invasion in Florence, the Medici family was removed from power. The Dominic Girolamo Savonarola (then ruler of the Florentine Republic) instructed to Cronaca (byname of Simone del Pollaiuolo) the construction of the “Salone dei Cinquecento” (Hall of the Five Hundred) to assemble there the members of the “Consiglio Maggiore” (Main Council).
A conspiracy against him, plotted to re-establish the monarchy in Florence, made Pope Alexander VI (born Roderic Borgia) to excommunicate Savonarola. In 1498, the Pope demanded his arrest and execution. He was falsely accused of heresy, sedition and religious error.
Girolamo Savonarola, cruelly tortured, spent the last days of his life imprisoned in one of the cells of the “Torre d’Arnolfo”. He was hanged and burned in Piazza della Signoria on the 23rd May 1498, together with two Dominic monks (Fra Silvestro and Fra Domenico da Pescia) who remained loyal to him until the ending. A commemorative plaque to honour his memory has been set in the place where the scaffold was erected.
Later, Palazzo Vecchio was twice enlarged: in the 16th century by Giorgio Vasari, on commission of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo I de Medici, and in the 17th century by Bernardo Buontalenti, retaining always its medieval appearance.
In the second half of the 19th century Palazzo Vecchio was twice the headquarters of the provisional governments. When Florence became the capital city of Italy (1865-1871) the palace hosted the Chamber of Deputies as well as the Foreign Office. Since 1872 it is the seat of the Town Hall.
The internal architecture of the palace is also a masterpiece from different artistic periods, mainly from the 13th to the 16th century. It is composed by a ground floor, three courtyards, and two upper floors.
The Ground Floor is composed of: a huge entrance and three courtyards.
-The Entrance is embellished by a wonderful marble frontispiece from the early 16th century, a perfect replica of the monument to “David” by Michelangelo, 15th – 16th century (the original one is kept in the Museum of the Accademia), the sculpture to “Ercole e Caco” by Baccio Bandinelli (16th century) and the “Monogramma di Cristo” flanked by two bronze gilded lions.
- The First Courtyard was projected by the architect Michelozzo (15th century) and hosts a replica by Giorgio Vasari (16th century) of the “Fontana con Putto” originally created by Andrea del Verrocchio (15th century).
- The Second Courtyard included numerous gigantic columns by Simone del Pollaioulo (15th century) to support the immense “Salone dei Cinquecento”.
- “The Third Courtyard” kept several public offices.
The First Floor
A magnificent and colossal stairway designed by Giorgio Vasari which started between the second and the third courtyards leads to:
- The “Salone dei Cinquecento” projected by Simone del Pollaioulo and enlarged by Giorgio Vasari, who also decorated its indoors and the amazing frescoed ceiling describing some episodes from the life of Cosimo I de Medici. It hosts the marvellous marble sculptured group “Il Genio della Vittoria “by Michelangelo; six marble sculptures describing “I Lavori di Ercole” by Vincenzo Rossi (16th century) and other two sculptures, again by V. Rossi, one of them dedicated to Pope Leone X and the other one representing “L’Incoronazione di Carlo V dal Papa Clemente VII”, as well as several big frescoes representing epic scenes. Formerly this Hall hosted too“La Battaglia di Cascina“ by Michelangelo and “La Battaglia di Anghiari” by Leonardo da Vinci , which unfortunately were lost.
- The “Quartiere di Leone X” were the private lodgings of Pope Leone X. They were designed and decorated by Giorgio Vasari.
- The “Studiolo”, designed and decorated by Giorgio Vasari and by advanced pupils from his School, was the study room of Francesco I de Medici. It hosts: the portrait of “Cosimo I de Medici and Eleonora di Toledo” by Bronzino (byname of Agnolo Bronzino, 16th century) and some refined bronze sculptures by Bartolomeo Ammanati (16th century).
The Second Floor
A wonderful staircase projected by Giorgio Vasari conducts to the second floor which includes:
- The “Sala degli Elementi” houses five rooms and two terraces. They were designed by Giovan Battista del Tasso (16th century) and the work was continued by Giorgio Vasari. The walls and the ceilings of the rooms and terraces are frescoed with allegorical and mythological themes.
The original bronze of the “Putto col Delfino” by Andrea del Verrocchio is displayed in one of its rooms: “Sala di Giunione”.
- The “Quartiere di Eleonora” were the private lodgings of the wife of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo I de Medici, Eleonora de Toledo (1522-1562), born Leonor Álvarez de Toledo y Osorio, daughter of Don Pedro Álvarez de Toledo, Marquis of Villafranca and Viceroy of Naples from 1532 to 1553.
The main rooms of the “Quartiere di Elenora”are:
- The “Camera Verde” with a ceiling frescoed by Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio (16th century) and a door which opens to a passageway connecting Palazzo Vecchio with Palazzo Pitti, commissioned to Giorgio Vasari by Cosimo I de Medici.
- The Chapel is frescoed by Bronzino, as well as the “Pietà” on the Altar.
- The “Sala di Gualdrada” decorated and painted by Giovanni Stradano (Italian name of the Flemish painter Jan Van der Straet, 16th century).
- The “Sala dell’Udienza” was the Chamber of Justice. Giuliano da Maiano (15th century) made the carved coffer ceiling, entirely covered with authentic gold. This Hall has a marvellous door with marble mouldings on the portal made by Benedetto and Giuliano da Maiano and precious intarsia carved by Francione (byname of Francesco di Giovanni, 15th century) which opens to the “Sala dei Gigli”. The walls were frescoed by Cecchino del Salviati (16th century) representing “Le Storie dei Fatti di Furio Camillo”.
- The “Sala dei Gigli” is ornamented with an outstanding frieze of fleur-de-lys by Benedetto and Giuliano da Maiano and a statue of “S. Giovanni Battista e Putti” also by the Maiano brothers. Domenico Ghirlandaio (15th century) frescoed the walls with religious and ancient Roman themes. This Hall hosts as well the gorgeous sculpture “Giuditta e Oloferne” by Donatello.
- The “Cappella della Signoria”: the Chapel is dedicated to San Bernardo. Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio frescoed the walls and the ceiling.
- The “Sala delle Carte Geografiche” houses the precious and enormous collection of maps (53) of Cosimo I de Medici. The wooden carved ceiling was made by Dionigi Nigetti (16th century). The Hall keeps also the historical and huge “mappa mundi” of Cosimo I.
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- The “Vecchia Cancelleria” was been the private office of Niccolò Macchiavelli at the times of the Florentine Republic. It hosts a bust in polychrome terracotta and a portrait of the famous Florentine politician and thinker made by Santi di Tito (16th century).
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