Today I got a tour of the Palazzo Vecchio. I know I already went inside, but today we got a tour. And, anyway, I only entered into the courtyard area, which isn’t even an eighth of the palace.
I got to climb the tower! It was amazing!
It was as high as the Campanile (which means “bell tower” in Italian) and the dome, except it is much older! The view is amazing! You can see the square, and you can compare the heights of the Campanile and the dome!
Here’s some history of the palace:
First, to cover the whole story, I have to re-wind many years before this to Lorenzo the Magnificent, who helped the Renaissance flourish.
After Lorenzo de Medici died, and his son lost the power when the French nearly captured Florence, Savonarola began to preach his ideology, which was against the Renaissance. He was a monk from a nearby monastery, who had been great friends with Lorenzo when he arrived in Florence a few years earlier.
But he mustn’t have been very good friends with Lorenzo! Savonarola preached that the French’s near capture of their city had been a sign from God that He was going to punish them for allowing pagan ideas and themes to enter the arts. The people began to panic, for they had no leader, with the Medici gone, so they looked to Savonorola. One of the things Savonorola did was host a “bonfire of the vanities.” In this fire, people threw their paintings, sculptures, and books into a large fire, right outside of the Palazzo Vecchio! Thankfully, some old masterpieces were saved. But many masterpieces were burned.
Savonarola also added on a huge room to the Palazzo Vecchio, which we spent a long time examining! Savonorola had meant the room to be a large, spiritual room to fit five hundred people, but it ended up being filled with artwork. An early work of Michelangelo stands along the wall, as well as busts of the Medici family and statues of Greek and Roman mythology. In this room a famous competition was held between Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. Neither painting was finished, or even successfully started! Michelangelo was called away to Rome, and Leonardo’s paints ran, causing him to run away to France, never to return to Florence.
Savonarola, though, went one step too far by criticizing the pope for his lavish lifestyle. Outraged, the pope soon ended the monk’s life.
After many years with no real leader, the Medici family was back in power. However, Florence was never the same again. The Renaissance shifted away from Florence to Rome, leaving the city in a steady decline. During the following, many years, Florence went through a series of Medici rulers and republics. Florence regained stability when Cosimo de Medici stepped in.
Now to get back to the castle, which has much to do with Cosimo de Medici.
It is a Medieval castle (it has a watch tour you can climb and everything)! It has been standing for around 800 years. Just before the Renaissance, when Florence was a republic, another building was used for the government. But then, the Florentines decided that they needed another, so they built added to the Palazzo Vecchio.
However, at that time, it wasn’t really a palace. It was a castle. They had the choice to build it in either the castle style, or a chapel style. The castle style was more functional, for a reason I will explain in a second, so they went with that.
Much later in the 1400s, they adopted a more “modern” technique for buildings by drawing it out in great detail first. (Brunelleschi, who built Florence’s famous dome, was the first to actually draw out his plan before building.) In the Middle Ages though, people just improvised while they built, making construction of buildings much less efficient. It also meant that they just added more buildings to buildings to buildings, and so on.
Why the castle style was used is because their government consisted of two parts: one group created ideas for laws, and the other, larger group voted on which ideas should be put in place as laws and which ideas should not. Well, the first group, the one that created ideas for laws, was only in place for two months of the year. During that time period, they had to live in the castle. They could not leave, or see their family or friends. They lived in the top-most part of the castle. A castle was more efficient because it could keep the government electives safe from the corruption down below.
Here is where Cosimo de Medici stepped in, around 1530.
He inherited his families banking business and fortune at the time the Renaissance was still strong. Cosimo was first proclaimed duke (not Grand Duke yet), by the pope. The pope hoped to create alliances with the city-states so that when others invaded, he would have a large army to back him up. Cosimo’s first change as duke was to confiscate the Palazzo Vecchio for his own. This meant that Cosimo was now Florence’s government, and that the republic was gone.
He and his wife, Eleanor, of Spain, lived in Palazzo Vecchio until Eleanor bought the Pitti Palace just outside of the city. They lived in the Pitti Palace, never returning to the Palazzo Vecchio. Only one other Medici descendant ruled from the Palazzo Vecchio. While Cosimo and Eleanor lived there, they commissioned many works of art and paintings and frescos throughout the palace that we saw on the tour. They even added a map room containing maps covering all of the world, as well as a huge globe. The palace has had several additions for government functions over the years.
We also saw the San Lorenzo Church! This church is built by the Medici. Their family crest is everywhere! Even in Pisa, where I went yesterday, the Medici added their family crest to the ceiling and walls of the cathedral.
The San Lorenzo Church is simple but elegant. It is beautiful! Paintings line the walls, and two pulpits, carved by Donatello, are visible on both sides of the church! One of them tells some of the stories of Jesus, and the other tells stories of the apostle Paul.
Although these were before Ghiberti, who carved Florence’s baptistery doors, Donatello carved some perspective and dimension into his figures!
Then we walked over to the first Medici palace. The Medici family lived in this palace before they moved to the Palazzo Vecchio.
The front shows rough stones to smooth as your eye travels up the side of the palace. There is a beautiful courtyard when you enter the front gate.
Nearly all of the architecture has been altered in that palace, however, for the Medici eventually sold it to the Richardi family (another wealthy Florentine family).
But the artwork is still amazing! The rooms are filled with tapestries (sadly, they have faded and stretched greatly), paintings, and frescos (paintings done on the wall with a special plaster). A famous picture of Mother and Child is on display in this palace. It isn’t written anywhere that this painting hung in the palace, but it was painted by a favorite of the Medici family. And I got to see a fresco (the Magi) in the palace’s private chapel – that picture was on the cover of my history textbook!
I took tons of videos today! I also have a fun surprise with the mice involving Brunelleschi’s dome! (I’m not going to say what it was, though! You’ll have to wait for the film!)
That was a long post! There was a lot of information I had to pack in.
Thanks for reading!