Almost all the villas, streets, buildings and fields of the city of Florence and its surroundings tell the story of the Medici, one of the most famous families in Europe. The Medici were not only the basis of the political life in Florence and in Tuscany, but they were also great promoters of art, culture and scientific life of their time. This family, full of intrigues and loves, has fascinated generations with their history, and so Florence, the city that hosted it, has much to say about them and about the most famous characters of the dynasty.
Here are the places that will allow you to discover something more about the Medici family in Florence:
1. Palazzo Medici Riccardi
Our tour can only start from the building that bears the name of this family, wanted by Cosimo the Elder as his residence, and built in the mid-fifteenth century by the artist Michelozzo. Legend tells that Cosimo himself had rejected a project by Brunelleschi because it was too sumptuous, which could create envy among its citizens. The ensued building was a kind of austere and robust cube and for a century it wasthe most effective image of the political, economic and cultural primacy of this family.
Here, at the end of the fifteenth century, all the most important Medici collections were kept, such as David by Donatello, the Battle of San Romano by Paolo Uccello (in Lorenzo the Magnificent’s bedroom), and invaluable works by Botticelli and Pollaiolo. In the park of the Palazzo, the San Marco Garden, the ancestor of the Academy of Fine Arts was created, the first one in Europe, where the classic works bought by the family in Rome were studied. Among the most famous students, Michelangelo Buonarroti who lived adolescence in the Palazzo.
After the death of Lorenzo in 1492, the palace was looted, and was then sold to the family of bankers Riccardi in 1659, who expanded it to bring it to the current image, and then became property of the Province in 1974. Inside, you can visit a museum, the Chapel of the Magi, with the frescoes by Benozzo Gozzoli, and the magnificent Gallery.
2. Palazzo Vecchio, Piazza della Signoria and the Uffizi
In Piazza della Signoria, a palace was built at the end of the 13th century to house the city council, called Palazzo dei Priori. In 1540, it became Cosimo de ‘Medici’s house, with the name of Palazzo Ducale, and he was enlarged by Vasari’s projects, doubling its volume. He took the name of Palazzo Vecchio when the ducal residence was moved to Palazzo Pitti. Even today, the building is the seat of the City of Florence and the City Council, but only partially can be visited as a museum. Even the creation of the Uffizi, one of the most famous museums in the world, exists thanks to Cosimo I, who in 1560 commissioned the building to Vasari, as the seat of the administrative and judicial offices of Florence.
In 1580 the educated son Francesco I de ‘Medici set up an art gallery on the second floor of the building, built by Buontalenti, which was enriched over the years by new works. In the eighteenth century, the last direct descendant of the family, Anna Maria Luisa de ‘Medici, stipulated the Family Pact tying the Medici legacy to Florence to enjoy the city. Among the wonders of the building, the Vasari Corridor, built by Vasari to connect Palazzo Pitti to the Uffizi on the occasion of the marriage between Francesco De ‘Medici and Giovanna D’Austria at the end of 1500, to allow the Grand Dukes to move between the two buildings. The corridor passes through Ponte Vecchio, and not everyone knows that the Mannelli family, not wanting the corridor to pass by their tower, forced Cosimo I to divert the passage, bypassing their property.
3. Palazzo Pitti
Tradition tells that Luca Pitti, the historical rival of Cosimo The Elder, had chosen the project by Brunelleschi to be discarded for Palazzo Medici Riccardi for his own residence, so as to create a palace far more magnificent than the one of his rival. And so, the windows had to be bigger than Cosimo’s, and the courtyard would have had to contain the entire Palazzo Strozzi, another opposing family of the Medici.
In the mid-1500s, the Palace was sold by the family in difficult financial difficulties to one of their worst rivals, Eleonora di Toledo, wife of Cosimo I de ‘Medici. The woman suffered from pneumonia, and could thus stay in a structure with more windows and in a healthier area than the crowded center of the city of Palazzo Vecchio. Behind the Palazzo stands the majestic Boboli Gardens, with caves, fountains, water games and other wonders made by Buontalenti, Ammannati and Giambologna.
4. Palazzo Ramirez de Montalvo
The same Eleonora of Toledo, when she arrived in Florence from Naples on the occasion of his marriage to Cosimo I in 1539, brought with him Antonio Ramirez of Montalvo, who became the first waiter of his court. To reward his excellent work, the Grand Duke gave him this tower house, enlarged and improved by the court architect Bartolomeo Ammannati, enriched by the graffiti designed by Vasari, and on the anchor stands the emblem of Cosimo I.
5. Basilica of San Lorenzo
The Basilica of San Lorenzo is the oldest church in Florence, built in the fourth century, was the subject of an extension project by the Medici, who transformed it into the family church. The works went on for years, due to problems of funds, and the artists who worked there were many: from Michelozzo, to Manetti and Brunelleschi. The latter renewed the church, which was inaugurated as the burial place of the Medici family from the corpse of Cosimo the Elder, who was buried under the central altar.
The church, however, remained without a facade due to the death of Brunelleschi, although in 1513 Pope Leo X had promoted a competition to make it, won by Michelangelo, who even moved on the Apuan to choose the marbles to be used. Due to technical problems and due to the death of Leo X, the project was forgotten and the church remained as we see it. Even today, you can visit the Medici Chapels.
6. The Medici villas in Mugello
The Medici family was born in Barberino di Mugello, an area in which their imprint can be seen not only in the villas and in the parishes, but also in the geometric division of the fields and woods, in the canalisation of the water, and in many other characteristics of the territory. Renovated by Michelozzo on behalf of Cosimo the Elder in the first half of 1400, the Villa di Cavaggiolo not only served as the main summer residence of the Medici family, but also as a center of agricultural production, and a defensive structure located between Bologna and Florence.
Here, Countess Caterina de ‘Bardi took refuge when Cosimo the Elder was exiled, and Lorenzo the Magnificent hosted many artists and poets there. During the Renaissance, a descendant of the Medici began here the production of majolica and ceramics, making the villa an important center of this craft. A Vaglia then rises Villa Demidoff, with a huge English style park, where stood a villa bought by Francesco I de ‘Medici in 1568 as a residence for his second wife, Bianca Cappello, and built by Buontalenti. Today, you can still visit the majestic park, enriched by water games, labyrinths, artificial caves, and admire beauties such as the Giant of the Gianbogna Apennines, or the Buontalenti chapel.
And again, the Castello del Trebbio, commissioned by Cosimo de ‘Medici, which dominates the Mugello and was used mainly for hunting, and the Fortress of San Martino, in San Piero a Sieve, built by Cosimo as a bulwark to defend the family, one of the most extensive Italian fortifications of all time, today can only be visited from the outside. Finally, Villa Le Maschere, once Villa Gerini, is completely worth a visit, completely decorated by the architect and sculptor Giovanni Battista Foggini, at the court of the Grand Duke Cosimo III Medici, in which Caterina de’Medici, married to Ottavio Gerini, lived for a long time.