Palazzo Vecchio is the custodian of the history of Florence, it is the heart of the city. This is the palace that narrates and symbolises the power of the Signoria (lordly power). Designed to accommodate the rulers of medieval Florence, the Priors of the Guilds and the Gonfaloniere of Justice, its construction began in 1299 and was the work of Arnolfo di Cambio, who was already the architect of the Florence Cathedral and the Basilica of Santa Croce. The Palazzo is made solid stone and has two bands of trilobed Gothic mullioned windows. The architect Michelozzo Michelozzi added the decorative bas-reliefs of the cross and of the lily on the panels between the trilobes.
The contrast between Guelphs and Ghibellines that always stirred up emotions in the city of Florence is present everywhere in the building, like in the battlements, for example, which have a squared Guelph part and a dovetailed Ghibelline part.
Inside, the frescoes on the walls, depicting scenes from the Hapsburg countryside, were created in 1565 by Giorgio Vasari for the celebration of the wedding of Francesco I De' Medici, the eldest son of Cosimo I.
The Salone dei Cinquecento (Hall of the Five Hundred) was built in 1494 by Simone del Pollaiolo and was commissioned by Savonarola, spiritual leader of the Florentine Republic after the death of Lorenzo the Magnificent. The large hall was extended by Giorgio Vasari, so that Grand Duke Cosimo I could transfer his court to it.
The chronicles of the times tell us that in 1504, in the hall of Palazzo Vecchio, one of the most important artistic disputes in the history of art took place, and it is narrated in this itinerary.
Continuing to observe the interior of the Palace, we enter the beautiful Studiolo, a small room commissioned by Francesco I, without windows and decorated by Giorgio Vasari between 1570 and 1575. The walls and the barrel vault are covered with frescoes, stuccoes and sculptures. The portrait of Cosimo I and his wife Eleonora of Toledo is by Bronzino, while the refined bronze sculptures are by Giambologna and Bartolomeo Ammannati.
In the Hall of Maps, which was the site of the institution that conserved, inventoried and moved all the State and Sovereign assets, there is a wonderful wooden ceiling created by Dionigi Nigetti. The walls are occupied by cupboards decorated with 53 maps, created by the Dominican friar Egnazio Danti and by Stefano Buonsignori.
A curiosity: behind the doors with the maps on them, there are several secret passages. Behind the map of Armenia, there is a secret passage leading to the little study of the Grand Duchess Bianca Cappello, second wife of Francesco I de' Medici, with whom she shared the passion for and knowledge of alchemical art.
In Bianca Cappello's room, there is a small window, protected by a grate, from which the Grand Duchess could observe the Salone dei Cinquecento, remaining unseen.
On top of the Torre di Arnolfo, there is the Terrace of Saturn, so called because of the fresco on the ceiling. The terrace has one of the most beautiful views overlooking the entire city of Florence.