Whether or not you know their names, members of the powerful Medici family left their mark all over Florence. They built palaces, funded the work of now-famous artists and architects, and amassed remarkable art collections.
The legacy of the Medici is all over Florence to this day, and almost regardless of the sights on your Florence itinerary you’ll be seeing something related to the Medici. To get a deeper understanding of exactly how indebted we are to the Medici, however, you need to visit the places listed here – preferably with a good guide who can put it all in context.
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The name “Medici” means “doctors” in Italian, and some historians believe the name comes from an ancestor who was a physician in the 11th century.
The first palace of the Medici family in Florence, the Palazzo Medici Riccardi was built for Cosimo de’Medici in the mid-15th century. It wasn’t until 1540 that Grand Duke of Tuscany Cosimo I moved into what was then called the Palazzo della Signoria (which is listed below). It was the Palazzo Medici Riccardi that Michelangelo called home while under Medici patronage.
To see some of the artwork that Michelangelo created while he was an apprentice living with the Medici, you’ll need to visit Casa Buonarroti – the house Michelangelo bought in later life (but never lived in himself). There, you’ll see his two earliest works of sculpture – reliefs called “Madonna of the Steps” and “Battle of the Centaurs.”
The enormous Basilica di San Lorenzo (paid for by the Medici, and their parish church) encloses a huge library built in the 16th century to house the Medici family’s extensive collection of manuscripts and books. Michelangelo designed the beautiful reading room and the impressive entry staircase.
Today, we know this palace as the Palazzo Vecchio, or “Old Palace,” but when the Medici moved in in 1540 it was the Palazzo della Signoria. The building had been a palace for the government of the Florentine Republic, originally built in the 14th century. When the Medici later decided to relocate across the river to the Pitti Palace, the Palazzo della Signoria gained its new name – the Palazzo Vecchio.
After Grand Duke Cosimo I made the Palazzo Vecchio his home, he needed a new place for the offices of the government. He commissioned the large building next to the Palazzo Vecchio, which we now know as the Uffizi (the word “uffizi” means “offices”).
In the mid-16th century, the Medici family wanted more space than the Palazzo Vecchio could provide, and also wanted to get away from the busier side of the Arno River. They bought the Pitti Palace in the Oltrarno neighborhood and expanded it to more than double its original size, living there until the early 18th century. Today, the palace contains seven museums.
When the commute from the Medici home to the government offices wasn’t simply a walk to the building next door, but rather a lengthy jaunt from one side of the river to the other through filthy and dangerous streets, Grand Duke Cosimo I commissioned Giorgio Vasari to build an elevated passageway connecting the Pitti Palace with the Uffizi. Today, the Vasari Corridor is an extension of the Uffizi Gallery (its walls are lined with artwork) and visits are only permitted by special private tours.
To pay your respects to this incredible family, visit the Medici Chapels inside the Basilica di San Lorenzo. Again, Michelangelo was the architect of the space itself and sculpted the four figures on the tombs on either side of the room. Lorenzo the Magnificent is buried here, along with Cosimo (who built the first Medici palace) and Grand Duke Cosimo I.