The Medici palaces are an enduring symbol of Tuscany’s most famous family. One that dominated Florentine political life for three centuries, and whose influence shaped the city of Florence. From the relatively modest residence of Cosimo the Elder to the grand Palazzo Pitti, we give you an insight into the Medici palaces that can be visited in Florence.
Palazzo Medici-Riccardi – the first of the Medici palaces
Cosimo the Elder, the first of the Medici to gain notable political status in Florence, married the daughter of a very prestigious Florentine family. Her name was the Contessina de’ Bardi. The couple first lived in Palazzo Bardi before Cosimo, being ambitious, decided to have a mansion of his own.
He bought what became the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi. It would have been much smaller than the one we see today. Cosimo didn’t want to attract too much attention and chose a relatively modest design by the young architect Michelozzo. One design by Brunelleschi was refused as he considered it too grand.
Today this elegant palace’s highlights are the internal courtyard and the Magi Chapel, a frescoed room by Benozzo Gozzoli. It depicts the scene of the Magi travelling to Jerusalem to deliver their gifts to the baby Jesus. The artist, following a Renaissance trend, put his patrons in the scene. Cosimo the Elder is the one dressed in black on the eastern side.
Palazzo Vecchio given a facelift by the Medici
The imposing palace that you see in Piazza Signoria in Florence has been the seat of Florentine government for centuries (since 1299, when it was built). When Cosimo I de’ Medici became Grand Duke and moved in with his family in 1540, he decided to enlarge and revamp the Medieval building in Renaissance style. The Palace changed name too, taking the name of Palazzo Ducale.
Cosimo I had boundless ambition, reflected in the rooms that you can visit today, notably the huge Hall of the 500 redecorated by Vasari. All the paintings and frescoes in this room are about celebrating the glories and victories of the new Duke who was conquering every city in Tuscany.
You can see him right in the centre of the coffered ceiling, proudly dominating the space. If you visit Palazzo Vecchio you’ll see the apartments that once were inhabited by his family. The Secret Passages Tour of Palazzo Vecchio gives you access to hidden rooms, including the famed studiolo with its secret doors.
=> Find out what happened when we went on the Secret Passages Tour!
Palazzo Pitti, a mansion fit for a king
But then Palazzo Vecchio (Cosimo gave it the name “old palace” when he moved to the bigger Palazzo Pitti) wasn’t big enough for Cosimo and his wife Eleonora. She wanted more space, and a garden, far from the crowded, and not very salubrious, city centre.
And so they came to the decision to buy the huge Palazzo Pitti on the left bank of the river Arno, and moved there in 1549. The palace was doubled in size and redecorated under the guide of Vasari, who also built the Corridoio Vasariano. This suspended passageway runs between Palazzo Vecchio and Palazzo Pitti so that the Duke and his court could move undisturbed between the two.
It became the residence of the ruling family, until 1737 when the last Medici died. It was also a treasure house where the members of the Medici family accumulated art and precious artefacts throughout the centuries. Today it hosts several museums that show the Medici’s collections, including their costumes and a vast Palatine Gallery with paintings. The perfect place to immerse oneself in the history of this great family.
San Lorenzo Church and the Medici Chapels – the final resting place of the Medici
On the subject of Medici palaces, we can’t not mention the place where most of the members of the Medici family are buried. This was the Church of San Lorenzo, and the Medici spent a great deal of time and money on its development.
The work began with Giovanni di Bicci de Medici who choose Brunelleschi to create the old sacristy inside the church. Later Michelangelo was given the task of building the new sacristy. Work on the church carried on until the 17th century with the lavishly decorated Princes Chapel completely decked out in marble. Today this forms part of the Medici Chapels.
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The Biblioteca Laurenziana was the fist public library in Europe first housed in the palazzo in via Larga, then moved to the building next to the San Lorenzo church. This too was designed by Michelangelo, and is an extraordinary example of the architect’s ability.
On the hills surrounding Florence there’re many villas that the Medici bought and restored to create elegant summer residences. One of the most fascinating of these edifices is the Renaissance Villa Petraia in Castello, just outside the city, that can be visited for free.
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