Why You Need To See The Medici Palaces In Florence

For more than 300 years the Medici family ruled or ran the city of Florence.

They were bankers, politicians and the world’s most prolific patrons of the arts. From the architecture of Florence to the art that fills the city everywhere you turn, the Medici’s impact on the city and on the world of art will last for centuries after you and I are gone.

The Medici had numerous cardinals in the family as well as two popes. In 1513 Giovanni de’ Medici became Pope Leo X and in 1523 his cousin Giulio di Giuliano de’ Medici became Pope Clement VII. The family came from modest means but elevated themselves to becoming the hereditary Dukes of Florence then in 1569 Pope Pius V made Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici Grand Duke of Tuscany.

With centuries of drama, intrigue, assassinations and slick political maneuvering, this is one fascinating family.

One way to avoid the crowds in Florence is to take yourself on a walking tour of the Medici Palaces. I have found that my Glam Italia tour groups who have watched The Medici on Netflix get a huge thrill out of doing this. The palace we stay in in Florence is opposite the Medici-Riccardi palace, built by Cosimo the Elder and home to all our favorite Medici (Cosimo, Lorenzo the Magnificent, Cosimo I). At night we look across into the Medici palace and see all the frescoes on the ceilings lit up, invisible during the day.

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The Medici-Riccardi Palace

Our story starts with Cosimo de’ Medici, known as Cosimo the Elder. He married the daughter of a noble family, Contessina de’ Bardi. They lived in the Bardi palace across town but when Cosimo came back to Florence from exile in 1444, newly empowered he decided to build his own palace.

At that time you just built onto existing medieval buildings, but Cosimo had a different idea. He acquired the property diagonally opposite the Basilica San Lorenzo and razed the existing building to the ground. His Michelozzo designed Medici Palace was the first true Renaissance building.

The fortress like exterior with its rough hewn blocks on the first level, evolving into smoother stone on the second and third level was considered grand and quite ostentatious at the time but became the prototype for all the Renaissance palaces in Florence from then forward.

The garden at the Medici Palace

The lovely courtyard with its beautiful garden was the original home of Donatello’s controversial statue of David (now in the Bargello). As you walk through the garden to the inner courtyard, imagine more than a hundred years of Popes, foreign dignitaries, important political figures along with the greatest artist and philosophers of the time all walking these same steps as you!

The inner courtyard of the Medici Palace

The palace was home to the Medici until Cosimo I moved to the Palazzo Vecchio. Minor members of the Medici family lived there from then until 1659 when Ferdinando II de’ Medici sold it to the Marquis Gabriello Riccardi.

 It is now a museum. Highlights include the Riccardi family collection of marble, the Magi Chapel and the Giordano Gallery.

The Giordano Gallery in the Medici Palace, Florence

Also of interest, Lorenzo the Magnificent moved the young Michelangelo into the Medici Palace and raised him as his own. For 3 years Michelangelo lived as a brother to the 2 Medici popes, was educated with them, ate meals not only with the family but also the greatest minds of the time. Lorenzo created a world for Michelangelo where he not only benefitted from life at the Medici court but also had freedom and opportunity to rise to his full potential as an artist.

Address: The Medici Palace is on the corner of via dei Ginori and via Cavour, diagonally opposite Basilica San Lorenzo

Visit their website HERE

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Palazzo Vecchio

In 1540 Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici moved his family from the Medici Palace into the Palazzo della Signoria, now called the Palazzo Vecchio. This is the castle-like building in the Piazza della Signoria with the replica statue of David outside.

Palazzo Vecchio, Florence

He hired Giorgio Vasari to decorate the inner courtyard and the sumptuous Salon of 500. Cosimo I centralized all the government offices into a new building next door named the Uffizi, or offices. He had Vasari build a passageway that he could walk through from his next home, the Pitti Palace to the Palazzo Vecchio. This is now called the Vasari Corridor.

Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici
This painting is in theStudiolo of Francesco, a secret room in Palazzo Vecchio

The palace is still Florence’s City Hall but is also a museum. I recommend taking a tour of Palazzo Vecchio, my favorite being the Secret Passages Tour which combines seeing the secret rooms and yes, the secret passages, with a visit to the Salon of 500, the rafters above the Salon of 500 and ends at the Medici apartments. The tour is tremendous and gives fascinating insight into the lives of the Medici.

Inside the Medici apartmentss in Palazzo Vecchio

Address: Piazza della Signoria

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The Pitti Palace

Cosimo I was very happily married to a Spanish blue-blood, Eleanora of Toledo. To Eleanora the palace seemed small and provincial, nowhere near grand enough for someone of her stature to be raising her family, so she bought the biggest private palace, the Pitti Palace, and moved the family in there.

Eleanora of Toldeo, wife of Cosimo I

The story of the Pitti Palace actually starts with the Medici Palace. Luca Pitti was a wealthy Florentine banker who loathed the Medici. When Cosimo (the Elder) built the Medici Palace Luca Pitti decided to outdo him and in 1458 built a bigger palace on the south side of the river. He wanted his windows to be larger than the doorway of the Medici Palace, and he wanted his courtyard to be so big you could fit the entire Medici Palace inside it. That courtyard is now the Piazza Pitti, in front of the palace.

The Pitti Palace. When Eleanora bought the palace it was only the center section. She and Cosimo tripled it in size.

At the time the Pitti Palace was only the center section of the current structure. Luca Pitti ran out of money and died in 1472 before construction was finished. In 1459 Eleanora bought the Pitti Palace and expanded it to its current size. The gardens behind the palace, the Boboli Gardens, were the inspiration for the gardens at Versailles.

The back view of the Pitti Palace.
From this side it looks out over the Boboli Gardens.

The Pitti Palace became the Medici family home until the dynasty ran out of heirs. It was then the home of the new rulers of Florence, the Lorraine-Habsburgs.

Inside the Pitti Palace

The Pitti Palace is now Florence’s largest museum. It is actually a series of museums, with the Medici private art collection, the History of Costume Museum, Porcelain Museum and Silver Museum. Unlike the Uffizi across the river which is perpetually packed with tourists the Pitti gets vastly fewer and is wonderful to explore.

Check out their website HERE

Address: Piazza Pitti

Are you planing a trip to Florence? My free Secret Florence PDF tells you my favorite restaurants, bars, shops and under the radar secrets of fabulous things to do in the Renaissance city, Download your copy HERE

Discover the three Medici Palaces in Florence

Fascinating In Florence, The Madonna of the UFO

Could UFO’s have been flying over Renaissance Italy?

There is a little extraterrestrial intrigue at the Palazzo Vecchio in the historic heart of beautiful Florence. Up on the top floor of the palace in the Hall of Hercules there is a large tondo (circular frame with the painting inside) measuring about one meter across, featuring the Madonna and Child with St John the Baptist.

Madonna of the UFO, Palazzo Vecchio, Florence
Madonna and Child with St John the Baptist

It’s quite lovely, right? But there may just be a little more to this painting than meets the eye. We don’t know exactly who painted it. It has alternately been attributed to Tondo Miller, Bastiano Mainardi and Arcangelo di Jacopo del Sellaio but no one seems to know for certain who’s work it is. It happens, and this is not the only painting in Florence with an artist we can’t name.

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At first glance it looks like any other Renaissance Madonna and Child with St John the Baptist. It is nice enough but you wouldn’t necessarily stop and swoon over it. In a city with more art within one square kilometer than any other city in the world, this painting is lovely but expected. You can imagine it on the walls of any Florentine palazzo. She is pretty, wears a red dress with a dark cape and a young John the Baptist is there with with baby Jesus. Ho hum.

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But look over Mary’s shoulder and things get interesting. In the countryside behind her we see a shepherd with his small flock and his dog. Look more closely at both the shepherd and the dog. He has his hand raised to his forehead in awe and both he and the dog are looking up to the sky. Follow the line of their gaze and you will see what appears to be a B movie style flying saucer.

Madonna and child with John the Baptist and UFO, Palazzo Vecchio, Florence

I’m not kidding! A grey, oval object is moving across the sky, with spiky golden rays emanating from it. Could it be a UFO?

Leonardo da Vinci ornithopter sketches
Leonardo da Vinci’s ornithopter sketches

The painting is dated to 1510-1520, a time during which there were no flying machines. Leonardo started work on his ornithopter around 1485 but the skies over Italy in those days were occupied only by birds. So what exactly is going on here?

Madonna of the Flying Saucer.
Madonna and Child with John The Baptist and UFO, Florence Italy
the light of God on the left, and mystery object on the right.

UFOlogists are adamant that this is proof that UFOs were being sighted during the Renaissance. Some art historians say the odd looking grey object is an angel appearing as a cloud (I don’t see it – they were realllly good at painting angels back then. Renaissance painters specialized in angels, and none of them were painted as grey blobs with golden spikes coming out of them.) The historians also say the shepherd is shielding his eyes from the light of God and that the nativity star with the three smaller stars in the left hand corner represent Mary’s continued virginity, before, during and after childbirth.

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What do you think? UFO or grey blob of angel? Or could it be something else altogether?

Are you planning a trip to Florence? Would you like to know my favorite secret spots in Florence? My favorite places for lunch and dinner, where to have a drink with a view, the best markets and even a secret jewelry shop behind a hidden door! Get my Secret Florence PDF for free. Download your copy HERE

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10 Things You Absolutely Must Do When You Are In Florence

Florence is one of my absolute favorite cities in the world. It doesn’t matter how many times I go to Florence, I always discover something new. I never get bored with Florence, and I never feel like I’m done. Florence is magic.

I’ve spent a great deal of time in Florence over the past 10 years. I’ve been to the all the main tourist spots (multiple times!) but I have also explored the city from one end to the other. Along the way I have discovered some wonderful secrets in the city on the Arno.

Most tourists miss out on some of the most amazing things to do in Florence, so I have made you a list of 10 items that you need to add to your travel itinerary.

I am always asked about my favorite restaurants and shops in Florence, so I have added an option for you to get a PDF of my Secret Florence at the end of this post.

David-Palazzo-Vecchio

Here are 10 things that you absolutely MUST  do when you are in Florence:

Florence-Arno

1. Go For An Early Walk.

Get up early (at least once while you are there) and go for a long walk.

Florence gets so packed with tourists during the day and into the night that it becomes almost impossible to get one on one time with her statues, her famous doorways, the great piazzas. During the day you can hardly ever snap a photo without other travelers getting in the way.

But in the early mornings the streets are empty, and she is all yours.

Read more about it here

2. Eat Cinghiale

One of the local Tuscan delicacies is Cinghiale, or wild boar.

Every restaurant serves it, made to their own recipe, and it’s fantastic.

Florence-pasta

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3. Visit Santa Croce Church

Florence is full of amazing churches with amazing art, but to me Santa Croce is one of the most spectacular.

Santa-Croce-Church
Santa Croce Church in the shadow of the early morning

The art inside Santa Croce is considered to be some of the most impressive church art in all of Florence. From Giotto’s fresco cycles to Cimabue’s breathtaking Triumphal Cross, the art in Santa Croce is spectacular.
It is also the home to Florence’s most impressive tombs, and has memorials to Michelangelo, Rossini, Dante Aligheri, Ghiberti, Galileo and Machiavelli. Largely overlooked by tourists, the church at Santa Croce is an absolute must.

4. Get Up High

Florence
The Duomo seen from the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio on a misty, moody December afternoon

Whether you choose to climb the 463 steps to the top of the Duomo, or perhaps the vastly fewer stairs to the top of the Palazzo Vecchio tower, get up high and take in the mesmerizing view of one of Europe’s most magnificent cities.

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5. Take Long Walks At Night.

Just as early morning walks are a must in Florence, so are long evening walks after the sun has gone down.

One of the great loves of my life lives in Florence, ( if you are going to fall in love, it might as well be with an Italian, right?) and for many years evenings in Florence were synonymous with long strolls around the city, taking in all the incredible palazzi and churches, the magnificent doorways, the statues, the very essence of Florence, bathed in the moonlight.icon

Santa-Maria-Del-Fiore-Night

As beautiful as she is by day, Santa Maria Del Fiore (the Duomo) is just mesmerizing by night. In fact Florence is pure magic by night.

Santa-Maria-Del-Fiore-Night

6. Look Up

While taking night time strolls you have the opportunity to see frescos and incredible ceilings hidden to you during the day, but visible by night when people turn their lights on. When we would be out at night (and still even now, as the dearest of friends) he always tells me “Look up!” as we walk by breathtaking frescoes on the upper floors of the various palazzi, scattered everywhere in the city.

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7. Take A Tour Of Somewhere Special

Florence-Piazza-Della-Signoria

When I was in Florence this past December I was incredibly lucky to have a private tour of the secret passages and hidden rooms in the Palazzo Vecchio. It was so awe-inspiring that I immediately promised myself that every time I go back to Florence I will take a little tour of some place special. This medieval city is so full of hidden corridors and passageways, there is art up in the rafters, there is art inside the walls. It’s rich history of intrigue and treachery and treasures means there are endlessly fascinating secrets to be discovered. The perfect way to experience them is with an art historian filling you in on all the stories, bringing them to life for you.

8. Eat The Best Sandwich Of Your Life

foccaccia-florence

A couple of blocks from the Palazzo Vecchio and the Uffizi on the Via Dei Neri you will find Osteria All’ Antico Vinaio

It is super easy to find because they have a trattoria on either side of the road, and until late each night there are always locals spilling out onto the sidewalk with giant focaccia sandwiches in one hand and big glasses of lusty red wine in the other, while their brethren queue patiently in lines that weave down the street,  waiting for as long as it takes to get their turn at the counter. I guarantee you will never have had a sandwich quite like these before!

You can custom order, but I learned from the people waiting with me in the line and the others having spasms or gastronomic delight as they leaned against the walls or sat on the curb eating their panini, that the way to tackle this beast was to order from the posted list of favorites. (90% of the patrons were all ordering the same thing, so I figured I would just have what they did. Perhaps one of the greatest decisions I’ve ever made.)

This is no nitrite, no nitrate, no Monsanto, fresh, local, real food.

You won’t find anything as crass as a soda fountain here but you will find a selection of local red wines that they sell by the bottle or by the glass.

And just how much do you think the best sandwich of your life will cost you? €5. It’s the bargain of the century!

Booking.com9. Explore Oltrarno

Literally “the other side of the Arno”, there is so much to see when you cross the river. You have the big sights, the Pitti Palace, the Boboli Gardens, Piazzale Michelangelo and San Spirito with its Brunelleschi designed interior, but you also have endless medieval streets full of antique stores and local artisans. As you wander through you’ll find fewer and fewer tourists, which means the price of everything goes down. It’s easy to spend days on end losing yourself in Florence’s neighborhoods – there is so much to discover.

While wandering find your way to Santa Maria Del Carmine. The Cappella Brancacci houses a renaissance fresco cycle that changed the course of western art. Begun by Masaccio and Masolino in around 1424 and finished 50 years later by Filippino Lippi, this cycle uses a then revolutionary technique employing single point perspective. Look to the upper left entrance pier to Adam and Eve and notice the dramatic way their bodies reflect a light that seems to emanate from within the world of the painting, but outside the frame. It is magnificent.

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10. Buy Leather

Florence is world famous for it’s amazing leather goods.

If you are not shopping at the Gucci and Prada price point, then this is the city for you! You can buy beautifully made leather bags, belts, luggage, wallets and jackets all over Florence, especially at the San Lorenzo market, but you have to either know what you’re buying, or who you are buying it from to make sure you are getting good quality and not a Made-In-China rip off.

For years and years now I have been buying leather goods from my very dear friend Jimmy Ahmed of Jimmy’s Leather Collection. I’ve sent so many people to Jimmy over the years, and everyone is always super happy to have gone there. Read more about buying leather in Florence here

Bonus

I’m giving you a bonus tip, because I can’t refine it down to just 10 tips…

Eat Panforte

Panforte-Mandorlata
Panforte with coffee makes for a perfect mid-morning snack

This is actually a Sienese delicacy but you can find it all over Florence. Not a bread, and yet not quite a cake panforte is a divine flourless combination of nuts, dried fruits, honey and spices. My favorite type is Mandorlata. You do so much walking all day every day in Florence, it’s easy to justify a small slice with your morning cappuccino.

Secret Florence

If you would like to know my favorite restaurants, rooftop bars, a secret jeweler who designs for Dior but who also sells to regular ladies in the know at sensible prices, even a Medici perfumer, I have a Secret Florence PDF that you can download and print.

Get your Secret Florence PDF HERE


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