Just steps away from the charming Ponte Vecchio, in the bustling streets of the Oltrarno neighborhood, it catches you by surprise: the grand Palazzo Pitti Florence proudly showcases to its curious visitors. If it weren’t for the imposing size of the palace, its sandy exterior would be rather unassuming, conveying very little of the opulence hiding inside.
However, don’t be misguided by the plain color of its facade. For centuries, Palazzo Pitti served as the principal residence of the Grand Dukes of Tuscany and stood to be inhabited, extended, and improved by the powerful Medici, Lorraine and Savoy families. To this day the palace is probably the noblest and most majestic building in the city. Before you plunge into the lavish lives of the rich, dive in to find out all you should know before visiting this monumental residence.
Such a complex palace comes hand in hand with a complex history. It’s a history of power, luxury, wealth, politics, intrigue that unraveled over several centuries.
Luca Pitti was a cunning Florentine banker who, during the period of the republic, was a loyal servant and friend to Cosimo de’ Medici the Elder. In fact, he got as far as being awarded a knighthood as a reward for planning a coup of the government in Cosimo’s name when he was too old and fragile to maintain power alone.
At that time Luca Pitti was not only ennobled but also very wealthy hence maintaining power was not such a big issue for him. In reality, in that period, he, not Cosimo de’ Medici was the ruler of Florence. Feeling powerful, he decided to rival the glory of the Medici family by building a palace that would outdo the grand Palazzo Vecchio.
A legend has it that to build the Palazzo Pitti he decided to employ the most brilliant of architects and ordered him to make the windows of the palace as large as the doors of the Medici residence and build a courtyard so grand, it could contain that residence. However, the sources of this rumor are very feeble. What we do know for sure is that Pitti contracted Filippo Brunelleschi to design the palace. However, due to its untimely death, he was unable to see through its construction to the end so, his pupil Luca Fancelli oversaw the completion of the palace.
You might think that Luca Pitti succeeded in outdoing the Palazzo Vecchio. Nonetheless, the original construction comprised solely of the middle cube of the building we see today (the central seven windows on the top floor). While impressive, it wasn’t enough to overshadow the Medici residence.
After the death of Cosimo, Luca’s patron, his prosperity started to plummet. He passed away in 1472 before he could see the palace completed. However, his family resided there until their economic ruin in 1549 when the head of the Pitti family was forced to sell the mansion to Medici family.
Ironically, the palace that was supposed to rival their glory ended up in possession of the Medici family. It was the wife of Grand Duke Cosimo I de' Medici, Eleonora da Toledo, who was responsible for this excessive purchase. According to the historical sources, she preferred the Oltrarno neighborhood and didn’t enjoy living the Palazzo Vecchio which she thought was too “narrow.” Hence, it turned into the official residence of the Medici family.
The Medicis further expanded the palace by adding the large courtyard as well as by enlarging the square in the front where many lush celebrations took place. The famous Boboli Gardens likewise didn’t grow overnight. Its creation and continual development span over 400 years, from the 15th to the 19th century. Another valuable addition was the construction of the Vasari corridor that connected the palace with the Uffizi, church and Palazzo Vecchio allowing the members of the family to move around the city without facing the public.
After the last member of the Medici dynasty died in 1737, the residence was passed onto the Austrian House of Lorraine, the new Grand Dukes of Tuscany. Their principal mark on the palace’s appearance are the two grand wings of the building added in the eighteenth century. As a brief preview of the residence’s final fate, in 1833, Leopold II of Lorraine opened some parts of the palace to the public as a museum.
In 1860, after the unification of Italy, Palazzo Pitti Florence passed to the House of Savoy. Even more interestingly, in the brief period when Florence was the capital of Italy, it became home to the king Victor Emmanuel II! At last, in 1919, the king’s grandson donated Palazzo Pitti to the state in 1919.
Nowadays, Palazzo Pitti Florence is home to vast museum complex including the grand and monumental Boboli Gardens (about which tell you all you need to know right here).
The main museum inside the palace is the Palatine Gallery. It comprises a significant exposé of artworks collected by the Grand dukes of Tuscany and occupies the entire left wing of the first floor (28 rooms) partially frescoed by Piero da Cortona. The collection includes paintings by Titian, Correggio, Raphael, Rubens and other masters of the Renaissance and Baroque period.
The Monumental Apartments include fourteen lavish rooms of the Royal Apartments and the six Tapestry Rooms utilized by the Medici family and the succeeding inhabitants. Nevertheless, the decorative furnishings have changed. Today, you can mainly see the layout from the period of the House of Savoy.
The Treasury of the Grand Dukes (also known as Museo degli Argenti meaning Silver Museum)
The Silver Museum stretches over fourteen rooms on the ground floor and over 13 rooms on the Mezzanine floor located in the north wing of the palace. It showcases an extensive collection of invaluable of precious objects:
The second floor of the Palazzo is home to the Gallery of Modern art extending through thirty rooms from the main body of the building into the north wing. The grand, refined chambers once inhabited by the dukes of Lorraine bear the decor of the neo-classical and romantic periods. It features a fine collection of sculptures and paintings dating from the late 18th century to early 20th century.
The Museum of Costume and Fashion (before known as Consume Gallery) can be found in Palazzina della Meridiana. It stretches along the back of southern wing palace overlooking the Boboli Gardens. It was the very first state museum of its kind in Italy. Over time, it became one of the most prominent historical fashion museums in the world.
The collection features incredible 6000 pieces including:
A selected part of the collections is exhibited on a rotating schedule which is replaced every three years. However, there are also frequent exclusive temporary exhibitions dedicated to specific aspects of the collection.
The Carriage Museum sits in the Rondo of Porta Romana, in the right wing of the Palazzo Pitti. It’s home to the many carriages and other modes of transportation that used to belong to the grand ducal court.
Sadly, this museum has been shut down for years. However, there’s a plan to reopen it to the public in the Rondo of Bacchus, the home of the former royal stables.
At last, Pitti Palace museums have synchronized their opening times and created a single ticket to simplify the life of visitors as well as travel agencies. The main ticket includes:
Although entrance to the Boboli Gardens, Bardini Gardens, and the Porcelain Museum remains still separate, many third-party providers offer full Pitti Palace tours and tickets packages.
Palazzo Pitti is an imposing landmark. There is a lot to see but given its rich history, even more, to hear. If you have the option, we highly recommend to opt for a guided tour, you won’t regret it.
On March 1, 2018, Pitti Palace, Boboli Gardens and Uffizi Gallery introduced a new, seasonal ticket pricing. This system provides lower entrance fees during the low season, from the beginning of November to the end of February. High season constitutes the remaining months: from the beginning of March to the end of October). Also, buy Duomo Florence tickets in advance if you are planning to visit Florence.