THE PITTI PALACE, in the centre of the Piazza Pitti, in the Oltrano, is one of the key places to visit. Admission times and charges vary with each museum in this splendid palace. Buy a timed ticket to avoid long lines for the Galleria Palatina and the State Appartments of the Medici.

PLAN OF THE PITTI PALACEHISTORY. In 1418 the wealthy banker Luca Pitti bought the property from the Boboli family with the intention to build a palace equal to that of the Medici. The Pitti family wanted to impress their fellow bankers with an ostentatious display of his wealth of their family and highlight the fact they were wealthier and more successful than the banking dynasty of the Medici, their main rivals.

Luca Pitti commissioned Brunelleschi to design the building, but before construction work started, the architect died. Luca Fancelli took over the project and started building in 1458. Meanwhile, orchards and vineyards were planted behind the palace.

In 1466 Luca Pitti was implicated in a conspiracy against Piero de' Medici, son of Cosimo the Elder, with the result that his fortunes declined.

Due to the disastrous state of the Pitti finances, Luca Pitti's descendants sold the palace and gardens to Duchess Eleonora of Toledo in 1549. The duchess was determined to turn the property into the most magnificent palazzo Florence had ever seen.

Eleanora de Toledo, wife of Cosimo I de' Medici, was the daughter of the Spanish Viceroy of Naples. The love match of Eleanora and Grand Duke Cosimo of Tuscany was unusual, because he was supposed to make an arranged marriage to Eleanora's elder sister.

But when young Cosimo went to Sicily to propose to the elder sister, he was captivated by Eleanora’s beauty. To the amazement of her parents and the Spanish court of the Vice-roy at Naples, Cosimo proposed to the younger sister instead of the elder.


Eleonora de Toledo and Cosimo I

Eleonora was provided with a generous dowry and had the common sense to insist she controlled her dowry after marriage, uncommon for a woman of her period. Duke Cosimo, besotted by her beauty, granted her the money gained from taxes on corn sold in the city of Florence.

Palazzo Pitti - Boboli Gardens Shortly after acquiring the Pitti Palace, Duke Cosimo and Duchess Eleonora moved into it from the Palazzo Vecchio. One of the reasons why the duchess had purchased the building was her fear for her children's health in the fever-ridden city of Florence. She was convinced that the air was purer and the water supply fresher on the other side of the River Arno, in the district called Oltra Arno (now Oltrarno).

The duchess gave priority to the gardens (now known as the Boboli Gardens), which were completely re-landscaped by Niccolo Tribolo. After the architect's death, Bartolomeo Ammannati took over and started with the extensions to the palace. Matching the original structure, the extensions were built from massive rough hewn blocks of reddish local stone. The front fasade was enlarged and several windows were added to the original row of seven.


Pitti palace - detail of front facade

Detail of front facade

The front fasade of the palace is imposing and stern t was described by the British author Arnold Bennett as resembling "a large and very expensive Army barracks". The back of the palace is more beautiful, where three-storey wings form a large courtyard, suitable for weddings and grand entertainments.

Duchess Eleonora died in 1562 at the age of 40. After her death, Cosimo I had several affairs and the Pitti Palace became his love nest. Cosimo first lived there with Eleanora Albizi and his next mistress was the beautiful Camilla Martelli, who was only half his age. Cosimo married her in 1574, but he died the same year. Two days after Cosimo’s death, Camilla was locked up in the convent of the Murate.


Ammannati's Courtyard

Ammannati's Courtyard

Cosimo's son Francesco and his wife Joan of Austria reigned at the Pitti Palace for many years. In 1577, Joan gave birth to Filippo, the next Medici heir. She died the following year and only two months later Francesco married, Bianca Capello, a Venetian lady with a dubious reputation.

In the early 17th century, Cosimo II (grandson of Cosimo I) enlarged Pitti Palace even further, adding three more windows at the end of each storey, so that the front looked much as it does today.


Cosimo II

Cosimo II

Cosimo II also created an art gallery, to display a number of self-portraits commissioned by Cosimo I. The rooms on the piano nobile, with frescoes by Pietro da Cortona, Ciro Ferri, and Luigi Sabatelli, became the Palatine Gallery. The earliest portrait of Eleanora in a red dress is also on display in the Pitti Palace. A fragment of the richly embroidered velvet of this dress, in which Eleanora wanted to be buried, can be seen in the Costume Gallery of the Pitti Palace.


The Apollo Room, one of the many rooms of the Palatine Gallery

The Apollo Room, one of the many rooms of the Palatine Gallery

Grand Duke Gian Gastone (1671-1737), was the last Medici Duke. He was an alcoholic and under the influence of some shady characters. The duke organised obscene shows and orgies at the Pitti Palace and attended these in company of his immoral friends.

Since Gian Gastone died childless, Florence passed to the French Dukes of Lorraine. They sold off various Medici villas and the large collection of valuable textiles, but retained the Pitti Palace. In 1828, they added huge side wings to the palace, because it was not grand enough for them.



Grand Duke Gian Gastone
Grand Duke Gian Gastone


Gian Gastone's sister Anna Ludovica, being female and could not inherit Florence, realised that the Dukes of Lorraine would either sell off art works or send them back to France. To avoid this occurring she incorporate a clause in her will bequeathing the very valuable Medici collections of art and jewels to the people of Florence.