Strange Places in Italy: a Secret Passage for the Medici in Florence, the Vasari Corridor
If you'd like to feel what it was like to be the richest, most influential and regal of people in the Renaissance world, you're in for a treat if you visit the little known Vasari Corrodor. Grand Duke Cosimo I de' Medici commissioned Giorgio Vasari in 1564 to build a way to get from the Uffizi Palace to the Pitti Palace without having to mix with his subjects, soil his silk shoes or have to walk on cobbles laced with human and animal waste, or muddy puddles. The Corridor winds its kilometer long regal path above the hoi polloi from the Uffizi Palace, across the Arno River along the top of Ponte Vecchio and on up to the Pitti Palace, a newly built palace when the Corridor first conceived. There are stories of the Medici racing chariots pulled by big cats in the Corridor. They also used it to stayed out of harms way from rioting dissidents, walked to their private chapel for mass overlooking away from common worshipers, or conducted affairs of state (or had more notorious affairs) whilst moving between their palace and parliament.
The Vasari Corridor currently contains a self-portrait gallery of the artists who were courting the Court of the Medici for commissions. There are also modern artists' self-portraits recently added to the collection. However, if you visit the Corridor only for the art, you might very well be disappointed. Much of it pales in comparison to the masterpieces of the Uffizi Gallery itself, and many are suffering neglect and lack of climate control (a problem in many Italian art museums, even the Vatican Museum). It's a very dry presentation of art in the Corridor. Unlike the heat of the Uffizi, the Corridor is typically cool (and a bit damp)--a refreshing change if you've just come from trudging around the Uffizi.
When walking the Vasari Corridor, down below the streets will be filled with sweaty, shoving tourists (read, "commoners" or "illetterati"), while YOU will be like the Medici, strolling through your private covered walkway. Rain will never fall on your royal head. For the length of this exclusive tour you will become Medici. Your nose won't be bothered by the smells of the gutter--or cheap tourist food. You will be led by a Royal guard at the front and one at the rear of your very small tour group (so you don't try and pocket any art... so, OK, they don't really treat you like a Medici.) A warning if the tour group is a bit large... be careful about the many marble busts on columns throughout the Corridor. It is far to easy to back into one and knock it to the floor. In general though, tour groups tend to be less that 15 people or so and are well staggered. Touring the Corridor is an extreme contrast to visiting the Uffizi with it's heat and enormous crowds.
If you want to stay away from the throngs of tourists and generally stay off the beaten path, then the Vasari is for you. If you're a history fanatic, then you'll love it. The tour will start at a fairly mundane door in the Uffizi before heading down stairs past old masters damaged by a Mafia bombing. You then move into a series of corridors alongside the Arno, over the Ponte Vecchio, and wind your way through private apartments and a church and finally arrive at the Pitti Palace itself.
The real benefit is the unusual and unexpected views out the many windows along the Corridor. Views of the river, great architecture, looking down at the tourists below--all from very different vantage points--are the great photo opportunities that await. There is also a surprise: The Corridor has a small set of glass doors that opens onto the private Medici balcony high above the congregation of the beautiful Santa Felicita church. Imagine that--they were too elite to mix with the lowly congregation below.
You can plan to visit the Uffizi first, then the Corridor (there are tours that give you both) and then come out into the Pitti Palace. As a bonus, the Boboli Gardens are right next door to Pitti. There are also combo tours which include the Corridor and Boboli Gardens. A great way to spend the day in Florence while experiencing both sides of the Arno River and four of Florence's best sites.
Please check THIS WEB SITE to make sure the Vasari Corritor is open for tours. Recently, the Florence fire brigade shut down tours, but they should open them again soon.
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