The Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, Italy is the most famous and visited building in all of Tuscany. It was the seat of government for the Republic of Florence from 1299 until 1849, when the city became part of the Kingdom of Sardinia. Today the building houses the offices of the mayor of Florence and the Palazzo Vecchio is one of the most popular tourist attractions in all of Tuscany. The palace is huge, measuring 110 meters long and 70 meters wide and it stands on the site of an earlier Roman building which was constructed in the 1st century BC. It was here that the Romans held court and it was from this building that the Etruscan name for the city of Florentia (Florentia Etruriae) was derived.
The palace was largely rebuilt by Michelangelo in the 16th century and today it is a combination of Renaissance and Baroque styles. The ground floor contains shops and there are many great restaurants, cafes and wine bars within easy walking distance of the palace. The palace is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., except on Mondays when it is closed. Admission is free but there is a charge for the audio guide (available in English, French, German, Spanish, and Italian).
The palace is named after the “Vecchio” or “Old” Council Chamber which is located on the first floor. This is where important meetings of the Republic were held. It is also the place where the famous “Clock of the Bigallo” is kept. This is a huge clock which is said to be the oldest working clock in the world and it is located in the Sala dei Cinquecento which means “Hall of the 500”. The original clock was installed in 1425 during the reign of Duke Cosimo de’ Medici and it was moved to this location in the 16th century. The clock is 88 feet high, has 70 moving parts and it strikes the hours, the half hours and the quarters. It can be set for any time zone.
The clock face itself is 52 feet across and there are four clock figures standing at the four corners. These figures represent seasons and they are made of wood and gilded bronze. Each figure weighs 13 tons and they are movable. In the center of each of the four faces is a medallion with the date of the year. The clock strikes the hours, the half hours and the quarters with a loud clang which can be heard for up to one-half mile.
There are also many other paintings and sculptures inside the palace but the ones mentioned above are the most famous.
The audio guide provides information on all of the palace’s art including the famous “Florentine School” paintings on the second floor. This is a collection of 15th century Florentine paintings that give an excellent overview of artistic development in Tuscany from the late Gothic period through the Renaissance.
Another interesting fact is the palace was used as a film location in two different movies. The first was “La Dolce Vita” which was filmed here in 1960 and the second was “Moneyball” which was filmed here in 2011. You can see some of the filming locations in the palace in the video below.
The palace is located at the top of the hill on Via dei Calzaiuoli which means “The Road of the Calziacani”. The road is one block south of Piazza del Duomo and it is the first street on the left after you exit the train station. The palace is well signed from the street but if you get lost just look for the huge Palazzo Vecchio sign above the main entrance. By the way, there are several other buildings with the name “Palazzo” in Florence. The most famous is the Palazzo Pitti which is a few blocks south of the Palazzo Vecchio. It was here that Benito Mussolini lived while he was dictator of Italy. Another building with the name “Palazzo” is located on Via de’ Tornabuoni which is near the Santa Maria Novella train station. It is here that you will find the Hotel Palazzo.
If you visit Florence during the summer months be sure to check out the rooftop bar at the Hotel Palazzo. You can drink cocktails, wine and eat snacks or meals there while enjoying spectacular views of the city.