The museums of Florence have a splendid system called the Firenze Card, which gives you direct access to seventy-two of the museums of Florence for seventy-two hours. I cannot stress how much it is worth the price. To get your money's worth, you'd need to see four or five museums, but this is not a difficulty at all.
(1) Florence is highly walkable, and almost every museum is within a five- to ten-minute walk from another museum. It's not uncommon to have multiple museums in one piazza.
(2) Talk of 'museums' is a bit misleading if we are considering how much you are getting for the cost, since we tend to think of a museum as a completely separate thing from another museum. The card actually covers museum tickets, and some sights in Florence involve multiple museum tickets. If you see the Duomo, for instance, and want to take in all the sights of the Duomo, that's actually five distinct tickets -- one for the Battistero di San Giovanni, one for the Campanile di Giotto, one for the Cripta Santa Reparata, one for the Cupola, and one for the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo. (The Cathedral itself is free to visit.) The Palazzo Vecchio and the Torre d'Arnolfo are two distinct tickets despite being in the same building, and despite the fact that one is accessed through the other.
(3) You can visit more museums with the card than you otherwise could, because it reduces, massively, the number of lines you stand in and the amount of time you have to stand in them. You don't have to keep standing in line to get a ticket, because you have one for them all, and things are often set up so that those with the card have a separate line. (The most striking example of this was the Uffizi, notoriously a difficult museum to get into because you may have to stand in line for a couple of hours; through the Firenze Card line it took us less than ten minutes.)
For Monday, we went down to the Museo di Palazzo Vecchio to activate the card, and since we were there already, that's where we started.
Around 1300, the people of Florence decided to build a magistrate's hall that would be appropriate to their conception of the city, and so they enlisted Arnolfo di Cambio, who was also designing the Duomo, to build it. He incorporated certain elements of prior palaces on the spot, most notably (it seems) the rectangular tower that combines with the projecting crenallated battlement that makes the building so striking. Given the origin of the tower, it is not actually centered, but it's almost not noticeable if you just glance at it, given the position of the building in the square.
The original name was the Palazzo della Signoria, because it was the center of power for the Signoria, the ruling body of the Republic of France. The name was changed multiple times through the years as the governing authority in Fiorenza shifted; Cosimo I de'Medici made it his official seat in 1540. In 1549, however, Cosimo moved the seat of government again to the Palazzo Pitti, thus giving it its current name: the Old Palace. Despite no longer being the primary seat of government, the Palazzo Vecchio continued to play an important role in governance. It would again become the seat of government in the nineteenth century when Florence was the temporary capital of United Italy, and the Palazzo Vecchio was chosen symbolically as the seat of government from 1865-1871. Since then it has been a city museum, but for symbolic purposes it remains technically the seat of government for the City of Florence; the Mayor of Florence has an office there and it is a meeting place for the City Council.
One of the most noticeable things about the palace is its entrance. Michelangelo's David was originally designed for the entrance of the building, where it remained from 1504 to 1873. It was then moved to the Accademia Gallery, for preservation reasons, and a replica was put in its place in 1910, but if you want to see how the statue was intended to be experienced, you have to see the replica in the Piazza della Signoria:
The other statue flanking the entrance is the Hercules and Cacus of Baccio Bandinelli. It was originally supposed to be done by Michelangelo, and Bandinelli, unfortunately, has suffered intense criticism through the centuries for not having been born Michelangelo, and not doing a statue exactly the way Michelangelo would have, but the statue does work nicely in its place and apparently the Medici themselves were pleased with it. The club, as it turns out, is aluminum and is (obviously) not the original bronze club. Nobody knows what happened to the original club; it was only discovered that it was not the original club in the 1990s when the statue was undergoing restoration. The slaying of Cacus was an event during Hercules' Tenth Labor, and the two statues together therefore represent spiritual strength (David) and physical strength (Hercules) -- a message by the Medicis to any republicans left who might oppose them. But the Medicis also showed a bit of restraint by recognizing that their power was not absolute: the text on the frontispiece above the door has a Christogram and refers to Christ as King of kings and Lord of lords.
The inside is richly decorated in ways too many to enumerate. Here, for instance, is a ceiling:
A statue of a putto with a dolphin by Andrea del Verocchio:
The Salone dei Cinquecento is quite striking:
The Salone was built in 1494 by Simone del Pollaiolo. In 1494, the Medici were in exile; it was Girolamo Savanorola who held the reins of power. He commissioned the hall in order to serve as the meeting place of the Grand Council of Florence; when the Medicis returned, it was enlarged by Giorgio Vasari. Vasari and his assistants painted scenes from the life of Grand Duke Cosimo on the ceiling. The raised stage was designed and built by Bandinelli for Cosimo to hold audiences with ambassadors.
Throughout one finds various artifacts emblematic of Florence or of the Medici that have been donated by collectors. Here is a death mask for Dante:
And here is a bust of Machiavelli:
Two other things that caught my eye in particular. One is an embroidered icon from the fifteenth century, of very good workmanship:
Embroidered icons are an excellent idea in many ways; while they have existed through much of Christian history (particularly in situations in which one needs icons to be highly portable), they should be more common than they are. Given the time and skill required to produce detailed pictures by needlework, pictorial embroidery is able to be an art quite as high as painting. And here is a statue of Saint Catherine of Siena:
One of the most striking rooms is the Stanza delle Mappe geografiche, also sometimes called the Stanza della Guardaroba. Originally a storeroom for valuables, the walls were painted with maps by Fra Ignazio Dante, showing the world as it seemed to be in the sixteenth century. The maps are all Mercator projections. Gerardus Mercator had only published his world map using Mercator projections in 1569, and Fra Ignazio was painting the maps at about the same time, so these maps were literally at the cutting edge of cartography when they were painted. At the center of the room there is the mappa mundi, which unfortunately has seen better days. It still makes an impressive picture:
It is always worthwhile to ascend the Torre d'Arnolfo and look out at the city. This view from the Tower, looking eastward, is of the Basilica of Santa Croce, which, alas, we never had a chance to reach. It is also called the Tempio dell'Itale Glorie because some of the most famous Italians in history are buried there:
Here we have the Duomo, of course, which is to the north:
And looking westward we have the River Arno:
Down in the Piazza della Signoria, there are a few other things worth noting. One is the Fountain of Neptune sculpted by Bartolomeo Ammannati in the sixteenth century:
It is an impressive work, although it has taken a severe beating over the years, from damage by vandals to bombing by the Bourbons. And, of course, there is the famous Loggia dei Lanzi. It was originally the place Grand Duke Cosimo housed his German mercenaries (they were pikemen, hence the Lanzi nickname), but was re-worked as a terrace from which the princes of Florence could watch events going on in the square. It is now an open-air sculpture gallery:
In this picture you can see a statue of Menelaus holding Patroclus, a very old one from the third century BC, although it has obviously been restored and modified; The Rape of the Sabine Woman, by Giambologna, which is in some ways the most important statue on the terrace, being the earliest recorded single statue involving multiple figures that was designed to be seen from all sides; and a statue of Hercules and Nessus, also by Giambologna. In the background you can see two of several statues of women. There are other sculptures not visible in this photograph; here is a good 360-degree panoramic view of the entire Loggia.
to be continued