florence
Florence
Palazzo Vecchio - Uffizi
Palazzo Vecchio (Palazzo della Signoria) -
Both a palace and a fortress, the Palazzo Vecchio, originally named Palazzo della Signoria, was the residence of representative government (Signoria). In the 16th century, when the Medici moved in and re-decorated, they added luxurious living apartments and walls covered with frescoes and paintings.
Tip: There are three separate tickets – Museo (includes all the ducal apartments and grand hall), Tower and Battlements, and Roman Archaeological site. Tower is for kids 6 and up, Archaeological site kids 8 and up.
Climb up the tower - Before going into the great hall and Medici apartments, first walk up the watch tower of the Palazzo Vecchio (for kids 6 and up).
The tower and battlements, completed in 1302, was needed to protect against frequent attacks (Florence was often at war with someone). On the way up, be sure to pop your head into the a small cell, used as a prison for Savonarola. It's 223 steps to go up the stairs to the viewing area.
Look through the crenelated battlements to the Piazza della Signoria below (imagine the piazza is filled with Renaissance celebrations), or towards the Duomo and red rooftops of old Florence.
Tip: The tower is topped by a large lion, holding a lily (Marzocco), symbols of Florence. The original statue is visible close up on the ground floor.
Hall of the Five Hundred (Salone dei Cinquecento) - This monumental hall was originally created to hold the Great Council of representative government (at least 500 citizens); when Duke Cosimo I moved into the palazzo, he changed it into an enormous gilded chamber for the ruler (himself) to receive guests.
On the ceiling in the center is Cosimo I, a chubby angel holding a crown above his head, surrounded by more roly poly cherubs, and coats of arms of the guilds of Florence. On the walls are huge frescoes, episodes in successful wars against Pisa and Siena.
Ducal Apartments - On the first and second floors are the ducal apartments, where the Medici family (Cosimo I and Eleonora) lived with their eleven children.
Apartments of Leo X - Each of the three rooms is dedicated to a famous Medici - Cosimo the Elder, Lorenzo the Magnificent, and Pope Leo X (son of Lorenzo the Magnificent), with paintings on the walls and ceilings with scenes from their lives.
Throughout the rooms, look for Medici coat of arms - six red balls, sometimes with one of the balls is the French lily, gold on a blue background.
Hall of Lilies (Sala dei Gigli) - On the second floor are the Apartments of the Priors, the oldest part of palazzo, used by the Signoria, comprised of priors, members of the guilds and representatives of each district in Florence, and led by a chief magistrate (podesta). The Hall of the Lilies is preserved much as it was in the early 16th century (before the Medici).
Around the top of wall are lions, interspersed with coats of arms - the red lily (symbol of Florence), red cross on white (symbol of the the "people"), Libertas (symbol of the priors). The walls and ceiling are covered with gold lilies on a blue background - the French fleur de lis, referring to Charles I of Anjou, chief magistrate of Florence in the late 13th century.
Excavations of the Roman Theater - Florence was founded as a Roman colony Florentia; the palazzo was built on top of ruins of a semi-circular Roman theater, which could hold 8,000 spectators. From the ground floor, walk down into the ruins - you'll see stone work that originally supported the wooden seats, videos show reconstruction scenes of the theater..
Piazza della Signoria -
This large piazza in front of the Palazzo Vecchio has monumental statues, including a bunch under shaded Loggia de Lanzi to the right, and plenty of lion statues.
Tip: Kids can see how many lions they find in the piazza - we counted 15.
Piazza statues - Near the entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio, on the right is a statue of Hercules, to the left is a copy of Michelangelo's David, then a lion statue holding the red lily, Neptune fountain with spectacular horses. Not surprisingly, out in the piazza, the large bronze statue is Duke Cosimo de' Medici on horseback.
Coats of arms - High up, the exterior of the Palazzo Vecchio is decorated with 14th century coats of arms. From left to right they are - red cross (symbol of " people" of Florence), red lily (Florence), white and red (Fiesole-Florence together), gold keys (the pope), Libertas gold on blue, symbol of Priors, red eagle Guelphs, white lily (old symbol of Florence, golden lily on blue (French), black and gold stripes, fleur de lis, of Robert of Anjou, then red cross and red lily.
Loggia de Lanzi - The most eye-catching statue in the group is a bronze Perseus statue by Benvenuto Cellini. Perseus - sword in one hand - holds the head of Medusa in the other.
Museo Nazionale del Bargello - The Bargello museum is housed in a fabulous Renaissance palazzo, with blue and gold ceilings, and decorated with the 14th and 15th century coats of arms.
On display are sculptures, including Donatello's incomparable bronze St. George and Verrocchio's David (standing on Goliath's head), a lovely Madonna and Child by Michelangelo, plus Turkish armor, Egyptian swords, miniature bronze statues of knights, rearing horses, peacocks and lions, and Renaissance cameo jewelry. This museum is a hidden gem.
Uffizi Museum (Galleria degli Uffizi) - The Uffizi has a magnificent art collection, but you'll need to plan your visit (tickets for a timed entrance).
Once inside, head to the Botticelli room, to see the glorious Birth of Venus, Allegory of Spring and Madonna of the Pomegranate paintings. Also do not miss da Vinci's Annunciation, Battle of San Romano by Uccello, Musical Angel by Fiorentino, Adoration of the Magi by Gentile da Fabriano, and portraits of Medici children.
Tips for visiting the Uffizi and what to see, read our blog post: "Uffizi Museum for kids"
Museo Galileo (Museo di Storia della Scienza) - Right next to the Uffizi is the Museo Galileo. The Renaissance was also a time of wondrous scientific discoveries. The museum has Galileo's scientific instruments, old telescopes and microscopes, Renaissance globes, and other scientific apparatus, along with Galileo's gold-covered fingers, preserved in glass bubbles.

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