The historic town hall of Florence houses a series of opulent rooms and some magnificent art.
The Palazzo Vecchio, with its 95-metre bell tower, stands on the site of the Roman theatre and has housed the city council offices for centuries (and still does). The present building dates from 1302 and was designed by Arnolfo di Cambio to be the seat of the government or ‘Signoria’; the bell in the tower summoned the citizens to the piazza below for a public meeting in times of trouble.
Today, access to the museum is through the main courtyard with elaborate decorations by Giorgio Vasari. The largest room in the palace is the vast Salone del Cinquecento on the first floor, which was created in 1495 to be used as the meeting room for the 500-member Consiglio Maggiore. Adjacent to this is the tiny, windowless Studiolo di Francesco I where the melancholic son of Cosimo I would pursue his interests in alchemy and the natural sciences.
Of the series of elaborately decorated rooms that follow (get a look at those ceilings!), the private apartments of Eleonora of Toledo (Cosimo I’s wife) stand out and from here, a balcony runs across the end of the Salone del Cinquecento offering a unique close-up view of the ceiling. Further on, the Sala deo Gigli has a superb gilded and coffered ceiling and houses Donatello’s great bronze statue of Judith and Holofernes (1455) which once stood in Piazza della Signoria.