Architecture in Tuscany

Pallazo Vecchio

The Pallazo Vecchio sits at the heart of Florentine culture. Often the setting for major political events, the Pallazo Vecchio (left) figures heavily in the drama of the history of Florence of the second millenium.

A Brief History
Construction of the building started circa the turn of the 14th century, when the presiding political machine of Florence, the Council of the Hundred, asked for a building to house the office of the supreme magistrate, the Gonfalonier, also the head of Florentine government and militia. For many Florentine citizens of that time, the position of the Gonfalonier, created in an agreement to end class wars, symbolized freedom from oppression, and the physical office of the Gonfalonier adopted the same symbolization.

Over the years, time sifted and seived the political system of Florence, and eventually, the power settled into the hands of the Medici family. Prior to that settling,

the Pallazo Vecchio had changed in structure. By the time of the Cosimo de' Medici' return from exile in 1434, several changes to the building had added to its defense : for instance, a gallery had been constructed with two levels, the upper of which is open-roofed but flanked by crenellated walls, and the lower of which served as a lookout and has arrowslits and trapdoors built into its framework.

Upon his return, Cosimo wasted no time in siphoning all political power into his self-initiated sceptre, and he remodeled the Pallazo to suit his, or what, in his eyes, amounted to the government's, needs. The change of the Great Hall, where the people's parliament had been meeting, to a private reception hall was one of several changes made by Cosimo to symbolize his authority while dismantling that of the people. Another such symbol is the covered walk which he built in order to separate himself from the public as he walked to the Pallazo Pizzi, another important political building.

Later Florentine rulers of Medici lineage followed suit, and, by the end of the Medici's rule in Florence, the Pallazo was, iconographically, more a celebration of the family than it was a political base. Between the 16th and 19th centuries, the Pallazo continued, however, to maintain several political offices. In 1865, the newly formed Kingdom of Italy, centralized its government in Florence, and the Pallazo, just restored after hugely destructive fire in 1690, was the main government office. Today the Pallazo is remembered for the role it played in Florence's history and is the subject of an extensive restoration project.

(left) A detail of Donatello's Judith, which is one of the many fine masterpieces displayed in the Pallazo.

(below) Inside the Pallazo Vecchio

Back to the Florence andTuscany site.

created by Jyoti Gupta