Palazzo Vecchio (Old Palace) is one of the most important sights of the city symbolizing the power of the Republic of Florence. It was the seat of the republican government and for several centuries there were taken all political decisions.
In the Middle Ages, the political life in Florence, as well as in many other republics of Italy, was exceptionally eventful and a struggle of various political fractions for power was very fierce. Until 13 century the Florence was governed by the Ghibellines, who abode at several towers built by them on the site of today Piazza della Signoria.
In 1293 the fractions of merchants and bankers won over the two families of the Ghibellines, the Uberti and the Foraboschi, who ruled over the Florentine Republic, and wanted to build their own palace, which was called the New Palace, on the site of the towers. The architect Arnolfo di Cambio incorporated one of the ancient towers in the ensemble of the New Palace.
The palace several times changed its name: it was called Palazzo dei Priori, Palazzo Signoria and Palazzo Ducale, until the Medici government didn’t move their residence to the Palazzo Pitti. By that time the ‘new’ palace built in 13 century had time to get ‘old’ and passed into history just under this name: Palazzo Vecchio (Old Palace).
Palazzo Vecchio is worth seeing not only from outside. A tour of the halls of the palace would be at least as interesting experience, and the ascent to the Tower of Arnolfo di Cambio is mandatory, as it commands very beautiful views on all main sights of Florence. You can see the entire Old Town of Florence: Santa Maria della Fiore Cathedral, Santa Croce Basilica, and the Boboli Gardens. At the foot of the tower the Uffizi Gallery and the Piazza della Signoria are located.
Of course, the Hall of 500 is the most interesting room of the Palazzo Vecchio. It is a huge room designed as the seat of the Grand Council of the Florentine Republic. At first, the walls of the palace were decorated by Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, and were finished by Giorgio Vasari and his apprentices. So, there appeared the huge frescoes dedicated to the victories of Cosimo I de` Medici.
The other halls of the palace are at least of the same interest, as well as the private chambers of the Florentine dukes: Cosimo I de` Medici, Lorenzo the Magnificent, Leo X. The most curious are the Apartments of the Elements, the Hall of Lilies, and the Audience Hall. The Hall of Geographical Maps is also very interesting.