It may not be the most famous attraction in Florence, but it surely is the most intriguing one. The Vasari Corridor, an indoor passageway that defines the skyline of the Florentine center, has a total length of almost two kilometres and a rather interesting history.
Designed in the year 1564 by the architect and art historian Giorgio Vasari and completed in only five months, it was ordered by the Grand Duke Cosimo dei Medici to celebrate the marriage of his son Francesco. Its purpose was to connect the two Palaces of the Medici family, Palazzo Pitti and Palazzo Vecchio, so that the members of the family would not be obliged to descend to the narrow streets of medieval Florence every time they wished to travel. Thus, they proposed the construction of a raised corridor, an advanced engineering project for the era, which would pass above and through many of the main churches and public buildings of the city.
In order to fully understand the nature of the passageway as a connecting line between two points, it should be made clear what these points represent. Palazzo Vecchio was, and still is, the City Hall of the state of Florence, their administrative center, a symbol of stability and political power for the Florentines. Palazzo Pitti at that time served as a house for the Medici family, and a home for their art collection. The corridor crosses several landmarks, such as the Uffizzi Gallery, the Ponte Vecchio and the Boboli Gardens, but its design is rather skillful, as it is smoothly incorporated into buildings throughout the city. However, a design entanglement can be noticed in the way the corridor sweeps around the Manelli Tower, because the medieval Manelli family refused to demolish it in order to make way for the corridor.
The combination of the Medici family’s extreme wealth and of Giorgio Vasari’s experience and talent resulted in an architecture element that is still dominant in the historic center of the city. However, apart from a limit in space, it also marks a unique social attitude. The Medici family had obtained their wealth by their serving as bankers for the Pope, and had a strong political impact in Italy. Τhey regarded the city of Florence as one that they were responsible for making great and renowned through the ages, but at the same time as a space that belonged to them and could be used to satisfy all their needs. Their reluctance to cross the same streets as the common people, and their ease in altering the city significantly in order to avoid it is indicative to this possessive regard of the urban space.
Today the corridor houses an interesting collection of Renaissance paintings, which remains almost as private as it once was, as the museum opens only for limited visitor tours and on special occasions. Tour companies charge extraordinary amounts in order to offer a unique route above the common touristic sites. The Florentine museums administration has tried to change that by settling standard visiting hours and prices. However, it seems that the Vasari Corridor, half a millennium after its construction, keeps offering mystery and social intrigue, along with the opportunity to cross the city from above.
Are there similar “bourgeois” architectural symbols in your towns, and what is their current role in the urban grid?
Credits: Images by Marilena Mela. Data linked to sources.