Want a bird’s eye view of Florence? While the options are many – Brunelleschi’s Dome, the Cathedral bell tower or the magnificent panorama from Piazzale Michelangelo, I had never seen Florence from the Tower of the Palazzo Vecchio. It was time to go and I was lucky enough to go up just before a storm rolled in and it teemed down on the city.
The Arnolfi Tower takes its name from the architect Arnolfo di Cambio who began construction of the building in 1299. However the tower was already present and incorporated into the Palazzo, hence its decentralized position. At that time it was known as the ‘della Vacca‘ or ‘cow’ tower owned by the Foraboschi family. ‘Della Vacca’ as cattle usually passed through the streets towards the butchers’ shops, located in Borgo Santi Apostoli and in Via delle Terme. Can you imagine that?! The piazza was in fact not a piazza, but streets, alleyways and housing belonging to families loyal to the Ghibellines. On the defeat of the Ghibellines their houses were expropriated and demolished by the victorious Guelphs, all except for the tower. The Palace of ‘Priors‘ was built to house the Florentine government. A military Palace boasting the power of the city, a fortified building complete with battlements, the square based Guelph and swallow tailed Ghibelline battlements on the tower. An appropriate setting for its governors (Priors) who were locked inside for their two months in office, to avoid corruption and distraction from the outside world!
The tower visit has 3 viewing areas, the parapet walkway, and two access points at the top. A narrow staircase taken with enthusiasm by tourists, both local and foreign eager to see the first view over the city. Note the covered holes in the floor of the parapet walkway where liquid lime, stones and other hazardous materials could be launched on besiegers. The 360 degree view on Florence is awesome and this was just the beginning….
More stairs as we climb to the top, 95m above the city, almost to the same height as Brunelleschi’s dome on the Cathedral at 116.5m but then that’s including the gold ball and cross. Past the cell ironically called ‘Alberghetto’ – ‘Little Hotel‘ where Cosimo the Elder was imprisoned in 1433 and also the Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola before being burned at the stake in Piazza Signoria.
The view of Florence takes everyone’s breath away, it is inebriating! Mobile phones click furiously as we circulate between the battlements to get the best shot.
The last curiosity is that we are just below the wonderful golden weather vane, consisting of a sphere, a rampant lion (the Marzocco) and the Lily of Florence. And as the local proverb goes “if the lion pees in the Arno river then it’s going to rain!” Florentines still heed its warning.
The Palazzo of Priors became the old palace – Palazzo Vecchio from the end of the 16th century when the Medici family moved to the Pitti Palace. It continues today to be the Town Hall of Florence, much admired and respected and highly recommended to visit both inside and up the Arnolfo tower.