Can a tour of Palazzo Vecchio provide us with insight about interior design? Turns out it definitely can and those of us who participated in the tour of the building’s many hidden passages and secret rooms can attest to having discovered an unexpected thing or two about the changing needs and mentalities of urban dwellers.
Imagine a comfortable private study, a room of your own, where you go to find solitude, peace and inspiration. The room you painted in your mind – does it have a view? How do you access it?
Turns out that the private studies inside Palazzo Vecchio have absolutely nothing in common with what we commonly imagine as a suitable room for studying, thinking or just wasting time on YouTube. A luxurious private study in the Renaissance Florence had no windows and was accessible only through a network of secret passages. Those same secret passages allowed the Florentine rulers to, then, exit the Palazzo unnoticed.
Why did these rulers favour secret rooms and passages over open-spaces and breath-taking vistas? Theirs was an uncertain era, and the outside world for those who got to live in the Palazzo Vecchio often equated to assassins hiding around every corner. Staying indoors in the pre-penicillin era was considered a pretty solid protection from disease, too. No wonder, then, that a windowless room was considered a luxury, a place where you could truly relax.
Yet the most astonishing design solution of the Palazzo Vecchio is hidden away not in a secret room, but in the attic above the spectacular Salone del Cinquecento. It was designed by Giorgio Vasari, who found an anti-seismic solution to protect the precious ceiling below at a time when knowledge of seismic activity and it’s application to architecture were non-existent.
Built in the pre-industrial era, the system of locally-sourced timber triangles was ingenious, light and slathered in oil to make sure the construction would slide easily come the shakes that have destroyed many a village in Italy (Pompeii being the most famous out of scores of others). Admiring the beautiful ceiling of Salone del Cinquecento was a whole different experience once we understood the enduring engineering solution, and the genius, behind it.