The Uffizi Gallery is one of the most famous museums of the world, hosting priceless masterpieces by the greatest Renaissance artists. However, you have to know that at the beginning this building was not a museum. Here’s the story of this magnificent palace.
The origins of the Uffizi Gallery
The name “Uffizi” means offices, which is what this building was created for. The complex was begun by Giorgio Vasari in 1560 for Cosimo I de’ Medici, with the aim of accommodating the offices of the Florentine magistrates. To make space for the complex, many buildings in the area were demolisihed. An example is San Pier Scheraggio, an ancient Romanesque Church that symbolized the power of the Medici’s dynasty. Some remains are still visible on the ground floor along Via della Ninna, a street facing Palazzo Vecchio. The arches and columns of one of the aisles of the church are still visible from this side street. The old nave is still intact inside the Uffizi ground floor, hosting the famous frescoes by Andrea del Castagno depicting the cycle of Famous Men and Women and another famous fresco by Sandro Botticelli.
The Uffizi building was completed in 1581 by Alfonso Parigi and Bernardo Buontalenti, after more than 20 years. The Uffizi brought together under one roof the administrative offices and the Archivio di Stato, the state archive. Soon the top floor was made into a gallery for the family and their guest, including their collection of Roman sculptures that symbolized the power of the Medici’s dinasty. Over the years more and more spaces were used to display works of art and jewels of the family, ending up using 50 rooms just for this purpose. The heart of this original private museum is the octagonal room called Tribuna or the Tribune. Completed by Bernardo Buontalenti in 1584, it represents the four elements and is fully decorated with stunning marble, precious stones and thousands of shells inside the dome.
The Uffizi today
The huge collection of the palace brought to an expansion of the exhibition’s areas, that started in 1989 and was aimed to modernize all of the halls and more than double the display space. The Uffizi hosted over two million visitors in 2016, making it the most visited art gallery in Italy. In high season (particularly in July), waiting times can be up to five hours! That’s why we offer a skip-the-line ticket not to waste time and enter the gallery straight away.
The beautiful courtyard that we can still admire today is considered by historians as the first regularized streetscape of Europe. Its length is well emphasised through the matching facades and the continuous roof cornices, creating a corridor which is itself a work of art. It ends in the Arno river, where you can enjoy the amazing view of Ponte Vecchio and take a walk under the Vasari Corridor. Every courtyard’s column features a statue: they represent the greatest artist of Florentine Renaissance, such as Dante Alighieri, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Brunelleschi, Giotto, Da Vinci and many more.
Some of statues were not positioned at random: e.g., Orcagna gazes on his main architectural project the Loggia dei Lanzi, while Cellini's statue is placed nearest to the city's former mint (Zecca), where he engraved some medals for the Medici. The statues on the Arno side of the building represent the warriors and defenders of Florence, featuring Fainata, Ferrucio, Capponi, and Delle Bande Nere. Galileo is looking at the heavens, while Dante’s gaze symbolizes his being condemned to exile by the Florentines.