Palazzo Vecchio ★★

The Salone dei Cinquecento, with Vasari frescoes and statues by Michelangelo, Giambologna, and others, Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, Italy (Photo by Juan Carlos Peaguda)
The Salone dei Cinquecento, with Vasari frescoes and statues by Michelangelo, Giambologna, and others

Florence's Palazzo Vecchio is a Gothic town hall decorated by Renaissance masters

The late 13th-century Palazzo Vecchio (Old Palace) is a imposing rough-hewn fortress in severe Gothic style, replete with crenellations and battlements and highlighted by a 308-foot campanile that was a supreme feat of engineering in its day.

It served as Florence's city hall for many years (a role it fulfills again today) and then home to Duke Cosimo I de' Medici (that's Giambologna's bronze statue of him on horseback anchoring the middle of Piazza della Signoria outside).

Cosimo I lived here for 10 years beginning in 1540, when much of the interior was remodeled to the elegant Renaissance style you see today, before moving to new accommodations in the Palazzo Pitti.

The palazzo courtyards

You enter off Piazza della Signora (past a replica of Michelangelo's The David on the site where the real one once stood) and through the stunning entry courtyard, with intricately carved columns and extraordinarily colorful 16th-century frescos by Vasari.

In the center of the courtyard is a fountain of a Putto Holding a Dolphin, a copy of Verrocchio's original (which is displayed upstairs).

Beyond this is a more workaday open courtyard crowded with staircases and portcullis doors and, most importantly, the ticket and information office, where you can buy admission to the rooms upstairs (and sign up for the often spectacular tours).

The Salone dei Cinquecento (Hall of the 500)

The highlight of the interior is the massive first-floor Salone dei Cinquecento (Hall of the Five Hundred), whose rich frescoes by Vasari depict Florence's history, with an emphasis on the greatness of his patron, Cosimo I.

Formerly the city's council chambers where the 500-man assembly once gathered, this grand hall is still used for government and civic functions.

There are several highlights in the huge room. The statue of The Genius of Victory is by Michelangelo (1533–34). Commissioned for the tomb of Pope Julius II, it was later acquired by the Medici from the artist's nephew and set up here. Its sinuous form (pictured below) inspired many of the Mannerist artists of the next generation.

Across the room from it stands Giambologna's plaster model for Virtue Overcoming Vice, commissioned to balance the Michelangelo (though the locals know it is not so much "Virtue Overcoming Vice" as it is "Florence Defeating Pisa").

Off one corner opens the tiny, barrel-vaulted Studiolo of Francesco I, an elaborately decorated private office and laboratory where Francesco, Cosimo I's eldest son and successor as Grand Duke, could indulge in his scientific and alchemy experiments surrounded by paintings of allegory, myth, the natural elements, and his own family by the likes of Vasari and Il Poppi.

(The wall paintings conceal cabinets for the Duke's instruments and experimental materials—the panel in the back right conceals a door leading into the secret stairs and hidden halls within the palazzo walls, which you can see on some special tours.)

The tragic tale of the frescoes you won't see in the Salone dei 500

In 1503, the Florentine government commissioned—from the two greatest artistic Titans of Italian history—to decorate the meeting room walls with what woudl have been one of the more dramatic fresco cycles in history. Leonardo da Vinci was to fresco one wall, and Michelangelo the other, with battle scenes showing Florence's past military victories.

Michelangelo completed the life-sized preparatory sketches called "cartoons" (because they were done on large paper, which in Italian is cartone) before being called to Rome by Pope Julius II (to "decorate" the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel).

His sketches were left in Florence, where they were studied and copied by many aspiring artists, most of whom decided to take home a piece here and there. Soon, nothing was left of these never-realized Michelangelo frescoes. All we know about them comes from a few copies made by artists I shall charitably call "less talented" than Michelangelo.

Da Vinci, on the other hand, got a good head start on his side of the room, but his frescoes were done in by the man's own eagerness to experiment. He mixed wax in with his pigments, but the resulting frescoes were not drying fast enough.

So, to speed up the drying, he had wood-fired braziers set up all along the base of the wall—then watched, in horror, as the heat melted the wax in the partly-finished frescoes and the images simply slid down off the wall to puddle on the floor.

Whether he started over again is unknown, since Leonardo left for Milan in 1506.

The Ducal Apartments on the second floor

Upstairs on the secondo piano (third floor to Americans), the richly decorated and frescoed salons—including the private quarters of Cosimo's wife, Eleonora de Toledo—offer an intriguing glimpse into how the ruling class of Renaissance Florence once lived.

There are loads more works by Vasari, plus works by Ghirlandaio and Donatello and many lovely, intensely colors paintings by Bronzino, especially in the Cappella di Eleonora, a private chapel for the duchess.

The Quartiere Elementi is an apartment suite envisoned in the mid 1550s by Cosimo I de' Medici and Giorgio Vasari as a Florentine equivalent to the Raphael Rooms of (Medici) Pope Leo X in the Vatican in Rome. It was the start of a long and fruitful relationship between the Grand Duke and the man who would become his chief artist and architect.

Each room is devoted to one of a variety of celestial beings—from the personified Elements (air, water, earth, fire) to the Titans (Saturno/Saturn, Opi/Ops—the Roman versions of Cronus and Rhea) and gods (Giove/Jupiter, Giunone/Juno) to demigods and muses (Ercole/Hercules, Calliope).

Here's the kicker: Directly below each room is a corresponding chamber of the same dimensions dedicated to an illustrious member of the Medici family—Cosimo il Vecchio below Ceres, Lorenzo Il Magnifico below Opi, Lorenzo's son Giovanni (Pope Leo X) below the Elements, etc.

Also up here are the elegant Sale dei Priori, the suite of public meeting rooms of the Florentine Republic.

Climbing the tower

The 95-meter (312-foot) tall bell tower was most likely designed by Arnolfo di Cambio in 1299—hence its local nickname, Torre di Arnolfo—as part of the expansion of the palazzo.

The tower—with its iconic bulging top and two battlemented tiers of swallow-tailed merlons called merletti—was finished by 1322 and has been copied by buildings all around the world ever since.

The clock at the base of the tower is the 1667 handiwork of Bavarian clockmaker Georg Ledel—though the current clockface dates from a 19th century restoration.

The tower is topped by a weathervane featuring a rampant Marzocco lion and a lily, the twin symbols of Florence (replaced by a modern copy, the original is now in a courtyard of the palazzo).

Long closed to the public, the Torre di Arnolfo re-opened in June, 2012 to anyone over the age of 6 who is willing to climb 223 steps to a magnificent (if vertiginous) panorama over the heart of Florence.

On the way up, you pass the Alberghetto ("little hotel"), a small chamber occasionally to house partciularly troublesome prisoners—from Cosimo Il Vecchio de' Medici (just before his brief exile) to Girolamo Savonarola (just before his being burned at the stake).

At the top are two bell chambers that house, among other bells, the famous Martinella, which once acompanied Florentine troops in battle on a cart to ring out military signals. For centuries, after it was installed in the Palazzo Vecchio tower, it was used to call the people of Florence to assemble on Piazza della Signoria. Silent throughout World War II, the bell was finally rung again on 11 August, 1944, as a signal to the partisans in town to rise up and help liberate Florence from the Nazis.

 (Photo by Arnaud 25)
Florence: Centro Storico

The statue-lined terrace in front of the Palazzo Vecchio tells Florence's story in sculpture

Photo gallery
  • The Salone dei Cinquecento, with Vasari frescoes and statues by Michelangelo, Giambologna, and others, Palazzo Vecchio, Italy (Photo by Juan Carlos Peaguda)
  • , Palazzo Vecchio, Italy (Photo by Jebulon)
  • The Sala del Trionfo, Palazzo Vecchio, Italy (Photo by Gaspa)
  • The Cappella di Eleonora, part of the Quartiere di Eleonora, frescoed by Bronzino in 1540–53, Palazzo Vecchio, Italy (Photo by WGA site)
  • The original banderuola weather vane from the top of the tower, Palazzo Vecchio, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
  • Looking up at the tower from the Cortile di Michelozzo, Palazzo Vecchio, Italy (Photo by MatthiasKabel)
  • The Cortile di Michelozzo, Palazzo Vecchio, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
  • The Sala de Gigli, Palazzo Vecchio, Italy (Photo by Gaspa)
  • Fresco by Domenico Ghirlandaio (1482–84) in the Sala de Gigli, Palazzo Vecchio, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Sala del Mappamondo, Palazzo Vecchio, Italy (Photo by Gaspa)
  • The Sala di Clemente VII, Palazzo Vecchio, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
  • The Sala di Leone X, Palazzo Vecchio, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
  • The ceiling of The Cappella di Eleonora, part of the Quartiere di Eleonora, frescoed by Bronzino in 1540–45, Palazzo Vecchio, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Bust of Antinous (ca. AD 110-130), Palazzo Vecchio, Italy (Photo © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY 2.5)
  • The Sala dei Duecento, displaying tapestries on the Story of St. Joseph, Palazzo Vecchio, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
  • The Camera Verde, part of the Quartiere di Eleonora, Palazzo Vecchio, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
  • The Cappella dei Priori, Palazzo Vecchio, Italy (Photo by Miguel Hermoso Cuesta)
  • Typical
  • The Loeser Collection, Palazzo Vecchio, Italy (Photo by Olivier Bruchez)
  • 19C fake
  • The Salone dei Cinquecento, Palazzo Vecchio, Italy (Photo by Bradley Grzesiak)
  • The
  • The Studiolo de Francisco I, Palazzo Vecchio, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • The Tesoretto di Cosimo I, up a hidden staircase from the Studiolo, Palazzo Vecchio, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
  • The Terrazza di Saturno, Palazzo Vecchio, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
  • The staircase up the Torre di Arnolfo, Palazzo Vecchio, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
  • The
  • The door to the
  • , Palazzo Vecchio, Italy (Photo by Robin Fabre)
Palazzo Vecchio tours
More tours


Free or reduced admission with a sightseeing card

Get into Palazzo Vecchio for free (and skip the line at the ticket booth) with:

» more on discounts & passes
How long does Palazzo Vecchio take?

The varied collections are just interesting enough to soak up an hour or two of your time.

To take (or return for) a tour—which, rather than visiting the main rooms, takes you behind the scenes—will take another hour to 90 minutes.

The ticket office closes 1 hour before the museum.

Grab an audio guide

The bookshop offers them for about €5 to give the frescoed chambers and great artworks some context.

Useful Italian phrases

Useful Italian for sightseeing

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is?... Dov'é doh-VAY
...the museum il museo eel moo-ZAY-yo
...the church la chiesa lah key-YAY-zah
...the cathedral il duomo [or] la cattedrale eel DUO-mo [or] lah cah-the-DRAH-leh
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
Closed day giorno di riposo JOR-no dee ree-PO-zo
Weekdays (Mon-Sat) feriali fair-ee-YA-lee
Sunday & holidays festivi fe-STEE-vee
ticket biglietto beel-YET-toh
two adults due adulti DOO-way ah-DOOL-tee
one child un bambino oon bahm-BEE-no
one student uno studente OO-noh stu-DENT-ay
one senior un pensionato oon pen-see-yo-NAH-toh

Basic phrases in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
How much is it? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
Excuse me (to get past someone) Permesso pair-MEH-so
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...the bathroom il bagno eel BHAN-yoh
...train station la ferroviaria lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
information informazione in-for-ma-tzee-OH-nay

Days, months, and other calendar items in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
At what time... a che ora a kay O-rah
Yesterday ieri ee-YAIR-ee
Today oggi OH-jee
Tomorrow domani doh-MAHN-nee
Day after tomorrow dopo domani DOH-poh doh-MAHN-nee
a day un giorno oon je-YOR-no
Monday Lunedí loo-nay-DEE
Tuesday Martedí mar-tay-DEE
Wednesday Mercoledí mair-coh-lay-DEE
Thursday Giovedí jo-vay-DEE
Friday Venerdí ven-nair-DEE
Saturday Sabato SAH-baa-toh
Sunday Domenica doh-MEN-nee-ka
Mon-Sat Feriali fair-ee-YAHL-ee
Sun & holidays Festivi feh-STEE-vee
Daily Giornaliere joor-nahl-ee-YAIR-eh
a month una mese oon-ah MAY-zay
January gennaio jen-NAI-yo
February febbraio feh-BRI-yo
March marzo MAR-tzoh
April aprile ah-PREEL-ay
May maggio MAH-jee-oh
June giugno JEW-nyoh
July luglio LOO-lyoh
August agosto ah-GO-sto
September settembre set-TEM-bray
October ottobre oh-TOE-bray
November novembre no-VEM-bray
December dicembre de-CHEM-bray

Numbers in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 uno OO-no
2 due DOO-way
3 tre tray
4 quattro KWAH-troh
5 cinque CHEEN-kway
6 sei say
7 sette SET-tay
8 otto OH-toh
9 nove NO-vay
10 dieci dee-YAY-chee
11 undici OON-dee-chee
12 dodici DOH-dee-chee
13 tredici TRAY-dee-chee
14 quattordici kwa-TOR-dee-chee
15 quindici KWEEN-dee-chee
16 sedici SAY-dee-chee
17 diciasette dee-chee-ya-SET-tay
18 diciotto dee-CHO-toh
19 diciannove dee-chee-ya-NO-vay
20 venti VENT-tee
21* vent'uno* vent-OO-no
22* venti due* VENT-tee DOO-way
23* venti tre* VENT-tee TRAY
30 trenta TRAYN-tah
40 quaranta kwa-RAHN-tah
50 cinquanta cheen-KWAN-tah
60 sessanta say-SAHN-tah
70 settanta seh-TAHN-tah
80 ottanta oh-TAHN-tah
90 novanta no-VAHN-tah
100 cento CHEN-toh
1,000 mille MEEL-lay
5,000 cinque milla CHEEN-kway MEEL-lah
10,000 dieci milla dee-YAY-chee MEEL-lah

* You can use this formula for all Italian ten-place numbers—so 31 is trent'uno, 32 is trenta due, 33 is trenta tre, etc. Note that—like uno (one), otto (eight) also starts with a vowel—all "-8" numbers are also abbreviated (vent'otto, trent'otto, etc.).