In recent years we have learned about the Medici family thanks to TV series, but did they really show us everything about the true history of this family?
Article by: Luigi Sorreca Free Tour Florence - Another Florence
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A little historical introduction
The Medici family dominated the history of Florence for over 300 years. They began their rise in the 13th century thanks to two important activities: trading and banking.
We can begin the genealogy of this branch of the Medici from Averardo known as Bicci, grandfather of Cosimo the Elder, who lived around the middle of the 14th century.
The son, Giovanni di Bicci (1360-1429), was the founder of the economic greatness of the Medici and he distinguished himself especially for the assistance of the sick in the epidemic of 1417. He also contributed to the erection of the Church of San Lorenzo in Florence.
During the 15th century, they began to take an interest in art and architecture, assuming a key role in the Florentine and Italian Renaissance.
Among the most important members of the family we can mention:
Their dynasty remained important for Florence until the 18th century and thanks to the strong ties with Rome, three members of the Medici family became Popes:
• Giovanni de' Medici took the name of Leone X (pontiff from 1513 to 1521).
• Giulio de' Medici took the name of Clemente VII (pontiff from 1523 to 1534).
• Alessandro de' Medici became Leone XI (pontiff from 1605 until his death in the same year).
Giovanni de 'Medici (Pope Leone X) was one of the seven children had by Lorenzo il Magnifico by Clarice Orsini. Giulio de 'Medici (Pope Clemente VII), one of his nephews.
Where did the Medici family live in Florence?
In Tuscany there are beautiful villas owned by the Medici but their residences in Florence were essentially three:
1. Palazzo Medici Riccardi
2. Palazzo Vecchio
3. Palazzo Pitti
Their first official house: Palazzo Medici-Riccardi
Palazzo Medici Riccardi was built in the 15th century by Michelozzo for Cosimo the Elder and is the place where the Medici family began to consolidate their power in Florence.
Inside the house you can admire the splendid Chapel of the Magi by Benozzo Gozzoli. Some of the most illustrious members of the family can be recognized in the frescoes of the small chapel, including the famous Lorenzo il Magnifico.
In 1540, Cosimo I, was appointed Gran Duke and moved to Palazzo Vecchio.
This beautiful medieval castle was built in 1299. Originally called "Palazzo dei Priori" (Priory palace), in the 15th century it became "Palazzo della Signoria", from the name of the main body of the Republic of Florence, the "Signoria".
In 1540, when Duke Cosimo I de' Medici transformed it into his residence, it was called "Palazzo Ducale" (Ducal Palace). Cosimo I was responsible for major renovations and expansion of the building, coordinated by court architect Giorgio Vasari.
The name "Palazzo Vecchio" (old Palace) was given after 1565, when the court of Duke Cosimo I moved to Palazzo Pitti.
Palazzo Pitti is the largest palace in Florence.
It was built by the rich merchant Luca Pitti in the middle of the 15th century following a project designed by Brunelleschi. In 1549 Cosimo I and his wife Eleonora di Toledo purchased the palace and many architects and artists began to work on it to transform it into the Grand-Ducal official residence.
Today Pitti complex hosts six different museums:
- Palatine Gallery: collection of paintings from the Renaissance onward.
- Modern Art Gallery: collection of paintings and statues from the 19-20th centuries.
- Treasury of the Grand-Dukes: collection of jewellery and precious stones.
- Gallery of Costume and Fashion
- Imperial and Royal apartments
- The Garden of Boboli: a must-see in Florence. It’s a 45.000m² garden and it’s a mix between Renaissance, Italian and British (romantic) gardens. It’s full of statues, little lakes and different kinds of trees and there are plenty of traces left from the Medici.
Le ville medicee (The Medici villas), deserve a separate chapter. They are rural architectural complexes that came into possession in various ways by the Medici family between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries and are located in the surroundings of Florence and in Tuscany.
In addition to being places of rest and leisure, they represented the “summer palace" on the territories administered by the Medici and the center of agricultural economic activities in the area in which they were located.
On 23 June 2013, the XXXVII Session of the World Heritage Committee registered all of these 14 villas on the list of UNESCO sites as the 49th property in Italy.
In the above photo you can admire one of them: The "Ferdinanda", known as the "Villa of the hundred fireplaces", which is certainly one of the most beautiful, as well as for the majesty of the structure, for the splendid position overlooking the best of the Tuscan countryside.
Almost all the structures listed in our article can be visited, some for free and others need a ticket and sometime a reservation in advance. If you are interested in visiting them, you can contact us! Another Florence guides will be happy to guide you through the history of the Medici family.