As a disclaimer: These photos were taken during a visit in January 2016, so this post may not be representative of this site today.
This is the first picture I took of Florence. I took it as I got off the bus at Santa Maria Novella, straight from the airport in Pisa, very early in the morning and still not quite believing where I was. I’d gotten a small glimpse of the Duomo (the Cathedral, you can see its dome above the buildings) and all I could manage to think was, Oh, right, I’m in Italy.
I dropped off my bags at the hotel, which was a couple of blocks away from the Duomo, a small part of me sad over a scarf I’d realized I lost as I got off the bus, a big part not caring because, well, I had just walked by what soon became my favorite building: Santa Maria del Fiore.
There was a gelateria in front of that hotel, and I bought my very first gelato — pistachio, of course — and sat on some nearby steps, freezing to death (did I mention this was in January?), not quite knowing what to do with myself. I had a carefully planned itinerary, but I was also in Italy for the first time, and surely my earlier self could not have accounted for what that actually entailed. It was the first time that I learned to fall in love with a city with nobody else around, in that tiny space between me and it. And boy, did I fall hard.
I suffered, that first time, from something I still suffer today – even when traveling in a place I’ve dreamed of going for years, I disappear into my own head. But coming back to reality was even dreamier than disappearing from it, and that thought, Oh, right, I’m in Italy, kept on springing up. I was in Italy. I was in Florence. It wasn’t a picture, it wasn’t a painting, it was real.
Eventually I began to follow the map as it led me to the landmarks I’d listed for my first day in Florence. When I reached the home of the Medici and stepped inside, well, that was like a bucket of cold water. It was real, and so was I while I was there.
It is difficult to speak of Florence and not mention the Medici — and when bringing up the Renaissance, it might well be imposible.
The family traces its origins to the agricultural Mugello region, but it wasn’t until the 15th century that they came into prominence, thanks to Cosimo (The Elder), son of Giovanni, the latter of who founded the Medici Bank in 1397.
Cosimo was integral to the development of Florence as a center of the arts and learning, and his grandson — Lorenzo Il Magnifico — continued this legacy. The family financed inventions (the piano and opera), architecture (Saint Peter’s Basilica and Santa Maria del Fiore), and commissioned work from Botticelli, da Vinci, Raphael, Machiavelli, and Galileo, to name a few. They also controlled the city and its surrounding region for about three centuries, but the Palazzo Medici itself was built in 1444-1484.
Brunelleschi, the architect responsible for finally crowning Santa Maria del Fiore with its majestic dome, had initially proposed a design of his own making for this Palazzo. Cosimo, however, decided to go with a design by Michelozzo (a student of Brunelleschi’s) instead, as he had found the original idea too ostentatious.
While the Medici were the de facto rulers of the city, they were not so in name, but only in influence (mostly through their bank), and it was very important to keep the appearance of being equal to every other citizen. At least, on the outside; the interior of the Palazzo, however, was a different matter.
The Magi Chapel is considered to be one of the most important rooms in the palazzo, covered as it is by frescoes created by Benozzo Gozzoli. Depicting procession following the Three Magi, the frescoes include portraits of members of the Medici family, their allies, and those who had taken part in the Council of Florence some years prior. The figure below is believed to depict an idealized Lorenzo, created while he was still a young boy.
The family was driven to exile in 1494, thanks in large part to Girolamo Savonarola, a Dominican monk who led a religious insurgence against the corruption in the city, and the Palazzo Medici was confiscated alongside all its contents. A number of works that had previously resided in the palazzo courtyard and garden — namely Donatello’s David and Judith, respectively — were transferred to the Palazzo della Signoria, seat of the new government.
By 1512, they were allowed to return, and remained in residence at the palazzo until 1540, when the Medici moved out of the building and into the Palazzo della Signoria — as Dukes of Florence. The home remained in their possession until it was eventually sold to the Riccardi family in 1659. Today, the site is known as the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi for this reason.
Among the additions completed by the Riccardi is included the Apotheosis of the Medici, a group of ten paintings created by Luca Giordano concerning the elevation of mankind thorough wisdom and virtue.
The Riccardi family eventually saw itself forced to sell the palazzo to the Tuscan state in 1814, which converted it into administrative offices. In 1874, it was purchased by the Province of Florence (which is today Metropolitan City), and now operates with Prefecture and the Historical Institute of the Resistance in Tuscany.