The Palazzo Vecchio is one of the most important and famous buildings in Florence. While the building still functions as Florence's city hall, much of the Palazzo Vecchio is a museum. Following are the highlights of what to see on a visit to the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence.
What to See on the Ground Floor
Entrance: The entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio is flanked by a copy of Michelangelo's David (the original is in the Accademia) and the statue of Hercules and Cacus by Baccio Bandinelli. Above the door is a gorgeous frontispiece set in a blue background and flanked by two gilded lions.
Cortile di Michelozzo: The artist Michelozzo designed the harmonious inner courtyard, which contains arcading set off by gilded columns, a copy of a fountain by Andrea del Verrocchio (the original is inside the palace), and walls painted with several city scenes.
What to See on the Second Floor (1st Floor European)
Salone dei Cinquecento: The massive "Room of the Five Hundred" once held the Council of the Five Hundred, a governing body created by Savonarola during his short stint in power. The long room is largely decorated with works by Giorgio Vasari, who orchestrated the redesign of the room in the mid-16th century. It contains an ornate, coffered and painted the ceiling, which tells the story of the life of Cosimo I de' Medici, and, on the walls, gigantic depictions of battle scenes of Florence's victories over rivals Siena and Pisa.
Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo were initially commissioned to produce works for this room, but those frescoes have been "lost." It is believed that Leonardo's "Battle of Anghiari" frescos still exist beneath one wall of the room. Michelangelo's "Battle of Cascina" drawing, which had also been commissioned for this room, was never realized on the walls of the Salone dei Cinquecento, as the master artist was called to Rome to work on the Sistine Chapel before he could begin work in the Palazzo Vecchio. But his statue "Genius of Victory" located in a niche at the southern end of the room is worth a look.
The Studiolo: Vasari designed this sumptuous study for Francesco I de' Medici, at the time the Grand Duke of Tuscany. The Studiolo is decorated from floor to ceiling with Mannerist paintings by Vasari, Alessandro Allori, Jacopo Coppi, Giovanni Battista Naldini, Santi di Tito, and at least a dozen others.
What to See on the Third Floor (2nd Floor European)
Loggia del Saturno: This large room contains an ornate ceiling painted by Giovanni Stradano but is most renowned for its sweeping views over the Arno Valley.
The Sala dell'Udienza and the Sala dei Gigli: These two rooms contain some of the Palazzo Vecchio's oldest elements of interior decoration, including a coffered ceiling by Giuliano da Maiano (in the former) and frescoes of St. Zenobius by Domenico Ghirlandaio in the latter. The stunning Sala dei Gigli (Lily Room) is so called because of the patterned gold-on-blue fleur-de-lys – the symbol of Florence – on the room's walls. Another treasure in the Sala dei Gigli is Donatello's statue of Judith and Holofernes.
Several other rooms in the Palazzo Vecchio can be visited, including the Quartiere degli Elementi, which was also designed by Vasari; the Sala Delle Carte Geographiche, which contains maps and globes; and the Quartiere del Mezzanino (mezzanine), which houses the Charles Loeser collection of paintings from the Middle Ages and Renaissance periods. In the summer, the museum also organizes small tours of the parapets on the outside of the palace. If you are visiting during this time, inquire at the ticket desk about tours and tickets.
Palazzo Vecchio Location: Piazza della Signoria
Visiting Hours: Fridays-Wednesdays, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Thursdays 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.; closed January 1, Easter, May 1, August 15, December 25
Visiting Information: Palazzo Vecchio website; Tel. (0039) 055-2768-325
Palazzo Vecchio Tours: Select Italy offers two tours; Palazzo Vecchio Guided Tour covers art and history while the Secret Routes Tour takes you through hidden rooms and the attic as well as the most famous rooms. There's also a fresco painting workshop.