Built at the turn between the 13th and 14th centuries as the seat of the Priors, the oldest part of Palazzo Vecchio was originally designed by Arnolfo di Cambio (1245-1302). The later additions of the 15th and above all of the 16th centuries changed the scale of the rear part of the palace, without however modifying the massive appearance of the huge blocks, projecting gallery and asymmetrical tower.
Various statues are lined up in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, including a copy of Michelangelo's David, that replaced the original in 1873, and the group of Hercules and Cacus by Bandinelli. On the facade, above the door, there is a medallion with the monogram of Christ betweer two lions in a blue field, surmounted by a gable. The inscription" Rex regum et Dominus dominantium" was placed there in 1551 by order of Cosimo I, to replace the previous inscription, set there thirty years before.
Initially, the seat of the Signoria was provisionally used by the Grand Ducal family until 11050 when Cosimo I de Medici moved the residence to the newly built Palazzo Pitti (it was at that time that the palace was referred to as "old"). The transformations applied by Vasari date back to this period (1550-65). He sumptuously redecorated the newly reconstructed interiors taking into account the new role of the palace, which was to be used both as seat of the gouvernement and as official residence of the ruling family (the so-called Monumental Quarters). The most important rooms of the palace are illustrated in sequence. The first entrance courtyard with white and gilded stucco work, redecorated with frescoes in the 16th century, owes its elegant structure to the second half of the 15th century. The courtyard opens on to the ancient Armoury now frequently used by the Town Council to organise exhibitions.
On the first floor we find the grandiose Salone dei Cinquecento, a work by Cronaca (1495), which was used for the assemblies of the General Council of the People, after the State reforms brought about by Girolamo Savonarola. The walls of the hall, originally decorated by Michelangelo and Leonardo, owe their present-day monumental appearance to Vasari and his pupils and date back to the second half of the 16th century. The panelled ceiling, the frescoes on the walls, the Udienza (the raised section of the room with statues by Bandinelli and Caccini), the sculptures of De Rossi featuring the Deeds of Hercules contribute to the complex and rich symbolism and offer a precise historical view of the glorious past of the Medici family. The hall also exhibits the Genius of Victory by Michelangelo. In contrast with the grandness of this hall, but equally sumptuous is the little Studiolo of Francis I, a jewel of Mannerism art and sensitivity, where the prince retired to meditate and gaze his treasures (about 1570).
The visit can continue through the rooms on the first floor, each dedicated to a personality of the Medici family (Cosimo the Elder, Lorenzo, Leo X), all appropriately frescoed.
On the second floor we find the "Quarter of the Elements" and the apartments of Eleonora da Toledo, the wife of Cosimo I. Despite the rich overall decoration, it is worth admiring the small chapel of the princess that was magnificently decorated by Bronzino (1503-1572). The visit can continue through the official rooms, like the Audience Chamber and the Lily Chamber with sumptuous ceilings, decorations and doors dating back to the 15th century. The final section of the monumental apartments preserves the Loeser Collection, donated to the Town of Florence by the American art critic Charles Loeser, who died in 1928. The collection includes paintings and sculptures of the Tuscan school ranging from the 14th to the 16th centuries (works by Tino da Camaino, Berruguete, Rustici, Bronzino and Cellini).
THE FOUNTAIN OF PIAZZA SIGNORIA
The Fountain of Neptune, nickname Biancone,
situated beside Palazzo Vecchio. This work by Bartolomeo Ammannati (1563-1565) and some assistants, such as Giambologna, was commissioned on the occasion of the wedding of Francesco I de' Medici with grand duchess Johanna of Austria in 1565.
The assignment had first been given to Baccio Bandinelli,
who designed the model but he died before he could start working on the block of Apuan marble.
The Neptune figure, whose face resembles that of Cosimo I de' Medici, was meant to be an allusion to the dominion of the Florentines over the sea.
The figure stands on a high pedestal in the middle of an octagonal fountain. The pedestal in the middle is decorated with the mythical chained figures of Scylla and Charybdis.