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The Vasari Corridor of Florence

written by Diane Warner from Tuscan Talent

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Hidden away from the eye of the general public is the Vasari Corridor, a long, elevated secret passageway connecting the Palazzo Vecchio with the Pitti Palace. It was commissioned in 1564 by Cosimo 1 de Medici on the occasion of his son Francis’ marriage to Joanna of Austria and designed and built in an impressive five months by the artist, architect and art historian, Giorgio Vasari.

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Eleanor di Toledo

The Medici moved to the Palazzo Signoria in 1540, using the Uffizi building, which Vasari had built in 1560 for their office work. However, Cosimo’s wife Eleanora di Toledo didn’t like living in the palace because it had no garden and in 1549 she bought the Pitti palace and its adjoining land on which the Boboli gardens were created. Cosimo eventually renamed the old palace Palazzo Vecchio and the corridor was created to enable the family to move freely and safely between their residence in Palazzo Pitti and the Palazzo Vecchio, the latter becoming the seat of government. Although most of the Palazzo Vecchio is now a museum, it remains the symbol of local government, housing the offices of the mayor of Florence and the City Council.

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Palazzo Vecchio



The Uffizi was originally used for office work and for meetings of the various committees and guilds under Cosimo’s control. However, twenty years after it was first built, Cosimo arranged for the piano Nobile to be used to display the Medici’s artwork, with the desire to keep the works in Italy. Now the Uffizi holds one of the world's most important collections of art, much of it commissioned and/or owned by the Medici family.


The first part of the corridor connects the Palazzo Vecchio with the Uffizi. Entrance to the main part of the corridor is via a heavy and rather nondescript wooden door (I walked past it twice) found on the Uffizi’s first floor.


A grand staircase leads down to the main passageway and with the general hustle and bustle of the Uffizi crowds fading away into the distance, an almost surreal silence descends and you suddenly find yourself entering a different time zone. It’s easy then to imagine yourself transported back in time, a time when the Medici family could walk safely across the city in comfort without being seen.


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However, near the bottom of the staircase we received a momentary jolt back to the present; one or two irreparably damaged paintings have been hung there as a memorial to the senseless car bomb attack of 1993, said to have been the work of the Mafia. It damaged the section of the corridor closest to the Uffizi’s entrance, including works by Rubens, and six people were killed.

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Following the path taken so many times before us by the Medici family and various nobles, we peered out over the roof - tops and had our first view of the people below as they walked or shopped along the Ponte Vecchio. While constructing the corridor, Vasari had tried to get permission from the Mannelli family to take it through their property at the foot of the bridge, but after strong opposition he built it round the Mannelli tower, which gives a wonderful view of the goldsmith shops and the foot path in between.
Originally the bridge housed the meat market, but Cosimo and his wife found the consequent smell so repugnant that they had it removed and replaced with goldsmith shops and workshops, selling jewellery and other ‘more appropriate’ items. Those shops are still there to this day.

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Towards the middle of the corridor where it crosses the Ponte Vecchio there are spectacular views across the river Arno, looking out towards the
Ponte Santa Trinita. In 1939, Mussolini had the windows enlarged to give a better view of the river for defence purposes but also to impress Hitler when he visited the city. Hitler was indeed impressed and so admired the view that the Ponte Vecchio was the only Florentine bridge to survive bombing and escape unscathed during WW11.

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Towards the middle of the corridor where it crosses the Ponte Vecchio there are spectacular views across the river Arno, looking out towards the Ponte Santa Trinita. In 1939, Mussolini had the windows enlarged to give a better view of the river for defence purposes but also to impress Hitler when he visited the city. Hitler was indeed impressed and so admired the view that the Ponte Vecchio was the only Florentine bridge to survive bombing and escape unscathed during WW11.


Further along on the left hand side of the corridor, a large grilled window looks out onto a private balcony overlooking the interior of the Santa Felicita church where the Medici could attend mass privately, unobserved by the public. Times had changed since Lorenzo the Great had happily mingled with the ordinary people in the congregation.

The Corridor then begins to slope downward ending at a small door, which leads into the Boboli Gardens near Buontalenti's Grotto. The door can be seen to the left in front of some steps. An alternative route leads straight into the residence of the Pitti Palace.

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The corridor also holds the world’s largest collection of self-portraits of Italian and other European artists, arranged chronologically and including Vasari, Titian, Rubens, Rembrandt, Velasquez and others. The collection was inaugurated in the seventeenth century by Cardinal Leopoldo de 'Medici and with the more recent addition of self portraits from the 20th century, including those of Chagall and several English artists, it is today the most comprehensive collection of its kind in Europe.


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Despite having over 1000 works on display, like most museums there are several stored away in the basement, still waiting to see the light of day.

Vasari is an interesting character and was a man of his time. Apart from his impressive architecture, which includes the Uffizi loggia, he is best remembered for his book, The Lives of the Artists, 1550–68 in which the term Renaissance, derived from the term la rinascita first appears.
Vasari dedicated the book to Cosimo I de' Medici, first grand duke of Tuscany. It is full of facts and amusing anecdotes about his contemporaries, and his biographies trace the development of Renaissance art from Giotto, though Donatello, Brunelleschi and others to the domination of the late Renaissance giants, Da Vinci, Raphael, and Michelangelo. He was the first real art historian.



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The Uffizi Loggia - Vasari

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Bronze Statue of Cosimo 1 in Piazza della Signoria

Ever the suave PR man, Vasari often included Cosimo's portrait in his frescoes and ceiling paintings in the Palazzo Vecchio. Although like his predecessors before him, Cosimo was a great benefactor and patron of the arts, he was also an authoritarian ruler and as such had many enemies. This political instability seems to have caused a general feeling of paranoia at court and apart from the Corridor Vasari built several secret passages, alcoves and false ceilings. He also left an intriguing hidden message in one of his murals in the Palazzo Vecchio with the words CERCA TROVA (Seek and you shall Find).

Scientists believe that Da Vinci’s lost master - piece, The Battle of Anghiari, thought to have been destroyed by fire in the 16th century lies behind Vasari’s mural in a hidden compartment, providing perfect material for Dan Brown’s latest novel, Inferno!

Visiting the corridor was a unique experience and one that I will always remember, thanks in part to our excellent Italian guide.
Guided tours to this fascinating secret gallery are only possible by booking in advance via the Uffizi website.

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