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Photo ©Dave and Margie Hills
Palazzo Vecchio
A Machiavelli tour of Florence: places, art, history
From San Marco to Palazzo Strozzi

Florence needs no introduction. And we don’t have to convince you that the city is worth a visit! Instead, what we propose here is an "alternative" route to visit Florence while discovering some of the places that had a relationship with Niccolò Machiavelli, one way or another. 

directions_walk 3 km
Duration: 1 day
The convent of San Marco

The journey starts at Convento di San Marco, where the figure of Machiavelli crosses that of Girolamo Savonarola, who was burned alive in Piazza Signoria in 1498, accused of heresy. It was in fact Machiavelli who wrote in the same year a letter to the papal ambassador Ricciardo Becchi, in which he informed him of the actions of the monk and of his “prophecies.” From that moment, Savonarola did not prophesy anymore from the Duomo and moved to the convent of San Marco. Here, you can admire the depictions of Savonarola made by Brother Bartolomeo, the first austere and virulent, while in the second, Savonarola has the appearance of Saint Peter the Martyr, an oil on wood where the monk appears softened with a proud gaze.

Palazzo Medici Riccardi

From Piazza San Marco, you then turn on to via Cavour, reaching – after around 500 meters – Plazzo Medici Riccardi, created by Michelozzo in the mid-1400s, as wished by Cosimo il Vecchio. One of the historical palaces in the city, it was the symbol of the political and cultural role of the Medici family in Florence for more than a century and is considered the prototype of gentile Florentine residence for its important and austerity. In this place, the symbol of the Signoria is said to represent the Machiavellian comedy “La Mandragola”, to celebrate the marriage of Lorenzo di Piero de’ Medici. A work that goes beyond comedy, considered a real and proper “political allegory.”

The Basilica di San Lorenzo

The trip then takes you to one of the most beautiful churches in Florence, San Lorenzo. A basilica linked to the figure of Machiavelli and – again – to the letter that he wrote about the “prophesies of Savonarola” to Ricciardo Becchi, the papal ambassador. The letter in which the Florentine writer recounts that the monk decided to address his prophesies to the men – and women - in San Marco and even in San Lorenzo. A testimony that underlines the diversity of the messages – religious and political – in respect to the gender of the citizens. Following the footsteps of Machiavelli it is thus possible to admire one of the most ancient religious buildings in Florence, the basilica of San Lorenzo that was in fact consecrated by Sant’Ambrogio in 393 and reconstructed in the Romanesque era. It will be however the year 1418 that signals the church’s “journey” as a symbolic place in the Renaissance with works by Michelangelo like the Biblioteca Laurenziana, the New Sacristy, and the Medici Chapels.

Piazza della Signoria/Palazzo Vecchio/Loggia dei Lanzi/Bargello

The Piazza, the emblem of Florentine political power also ideally represents the happiest years of Machiavelli’s existence. They are the years in which the writer served his homeland as a secretary and second chancellor of the republican government, after the fall of the Medici (1498-1512). Piazza della Signoria, strictly connected with the Palazzo Vecchio, where the Gonfaloniere at the time, Piero Soderini, lived – with the which the writer had a collaboration with – was considered the material and symbolic place not only for political live but also civic life, the opposite of Piazza del Duomo, located nearby.

To visit, in the course of your tour, you can see the beauty that faces the piazza, from the stage of the Loggia della Signoria (afterward called “dei Lanzi”) to the copy of Michelangelo’s David (the original you can see in the Galleria dell’Accademia from 1873). Inside the Palazzo Vecchio, you can’t miss one of the masterpieces of Donatello, the great bronze statue depicting Giuditta and Oloferne, in the Sala dei Gigli. In the Loggia dei Lanzi, you can find instead one of the masterpieces of Benvenuto Cellini, the Perseo, a bronze statue that you can find in Piazza Signoria from 1554. Perso, with the head of Medusa, represents the symbol of discord of which the republican regime was accused. The statue by Cellini was in fact connected with the Loggia dei Lanzi following the end of the Republic and the return of the Medici to power.

The journey of your visit in the places of Machiavelli then leads to the Museo del Bargello, which was at one time called the Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo, one of the most ancient public buildings of Florence. The museum houses, other than the works of Michelangelo (Il Bruto) and Donatello (il David), a marble bust attributed to Antonio del Pollaiolo that could actually resemble Machiavelli. Inside the building, you can also find an important collection of weapons from that era of war of the writer and politician, weapons with which Machiavelli guided the Florentine army against Pisa.

Il Tabernacolo delle Stinche

If the stops at Piazza della Signoria represent the most glorious years of Machiavelli’s life, il Tabernacolo delle Stinche instead represents the most dark. It was here, just a few steps from the Bargello, where via Ghibellina crosses with via Isola delle Stinche, that the tabernacle represents a stop of the condemned to die that came from the prison’s namesake and in this religious symbol they could find comfort. In the prisons of Stinche, Machiavelli was also imprisoned after the sack of Prato that posed an end to the republican government and sanctified the return of the Medici. The writer was imprisoned with the accusation of conspiracy toward the government of the Lords of Florence.

Casa Buonarroti and Santa Croce

The tour in the historical center of Florence then follows two places that testify to the last years of Machiavelli, from 1520 to his death. They are the Casa Buonarroti, which conserved objects of great historic and artistic prestige, from statues to drawings from the artist on fortifications to protect Florence and Santa Croce, where the  remains of philosophers and writers are buried in graves in 1527. Santa Croce is considered one of the principle monuments of the city, with its gothic face and its funeral monuments of illustrious people throughout history, from Dante Alighieri to Galileo Galilei, Michelangelo, and Ugo Foscolo. It is an historical place of memories, not only Italian but also European.

Palazzo Strozzi

The tour finishes at Plazzo Strozzi, the seat of the National Institute of Renaissance Studies, where the Machiavelli-Serristori Foundation is conserved which collects ancient volumes, which today belongs to the region of Tuscany. Today, the rich archives represent a privileged access to better understand the European dimension of the figure of Machiavelli. The palace which houses it, that you can find between Piazza della Repubblica and via Tornabuoni, was built for Filippo Strozzi il Vecchio, to redeem the image of the family, which in the past was penalized for having anti-Medici views. The placing of the first stone of the palace – where there is a depiction of Machiavelli, the opera of Rosso Fiorentine – was placed in August 1489.

And thus concludes the tour dedicated to Machiavelli, which hopes to outline the path of this great Italian literary figure who also had a role in Florence in the middle of Europe, which at the time was the cultural capital with the most glorious and flourishing economy. From a vibrant city always moving forward, ambitious and powerful, its cultural influences still breathe today, through the signs left behind by its artists, writer, politicians. Those who have are watching from afar. Machiavelli was one of these. 

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