on August 10, 2008
This building, a high, thin, crenellated stone keep topped with an elegant tower (the Torre d’Arnolfo) has had many names over the years. Palazzo del Popolo, Palazzo Priori, Palazzo della Signoria, Palazzo Ducale; it only became known as the Palazzo Vecchio (‘Old Palace’) in 1549 when the Medici decamped to the Palazzo Pitti across the river. It still keeps much of its 15th and 16th decoration, despite its current use as the seat of the town council, and its use for six years as the home of the young Italian state’s Chamber of Deputies and Foreign Ministry.A visit to the Palazzo Whateveritsnameis is interesting rather than essential. I have to say I did not feel as though I learnt an awful lot about the many and varied forms of government Florence experimented with in the three or four centuries when it was at its peak of power and influence. What you see is but a series of snapshots rather than a narrative. Entering from the ornately-decorated courtayrd, the first room you reach is the Salon di Cinquecento . This is the home of Da Vinci’s famous ‘lost’ work, the Battle of Anghiari. Frescos of military victories against Pisa and Siena decorate the walls. You can also find Michelangelo’s statue ‘Victory’, the vanquished foe still a little rough around the edges. In one corner there is a dinky little study (the Studiolo) with a secret door which you cannot enter unless you are on a tour. There are also some computer screens that take you through selections of the history, art and architecture of the building. From here you progress to the Sala di Leone X, chambers devoted to the Medici popes (you can see their coat of arms surmounted by the crossed keys of the Vatican frequently). Most of the rooms are off limits (they are still used as offices), but you can see their thematic twins upstairs. So for instance, above a room devoted to Leo X, you would find another identically-sized room devoted to Jupiter etc. In the Quartiere di Eleonora, the quarters of Eleonor of Toledo, wife of Cosimo I, has ceiling frescos recalling faithful Penelope, dutiful wife of the Greek hero Odysseus and a symbol of uxorial fidelity. She also has her own chapel, decorated by Bronzino. The Sala di Gualdrada has a frieze depicting civic festivities – religious processions, jousting in Piazza Santa Croce, football matches. There is a statue of ‘Judith and Holofernes’ by Donatello in the Sala dei Gigli. This was used as a fountain by the Medici, and then later erected under the Loggia dei Lanzi following their expulsion from the city with a warning against tyranny – a very graphic one judging by Judith’s upraised sword. Off to one side from this room with its golden fleurs-de-lys on a blue background is a narrow bare room. This is the Chancery, and was used as an office by the secretaries of the council. Among them was Niccolo Macchiavelli, whose name has entered the English language as a byword for nefarious political machinations. Next door is a map-room, its walls lined with charts detailing many and various parts of the world. On a map of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (which here stretched down to the Crimea) I could make out the route of my travels over midsummer 2005 – Reval (Talinn), Riga, Memel (Klaipeda), Vilnius. Better yet, on a map of the British Isles, I could just make out a town located between Manchester and Liverpool. I love the fact that the mighty Medici could place Warrington!The Palazzo Vecchio is open from 9.00am to 7.00pm daily (except for Thursdays and Sundays when it closes at 2.00pm). Entrance is €6.00 (€4.50 for EU students between the ages of 18 & 25, and for those over 65; €2.00 for those 17 or under).
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