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History of

Imposing and fortress-like, the Bargello is the city’s oldest civic building; its foundations begun in the mid 13th century, just fifty years after Florence was declared a free Commune. Among the most significant public buildings in Florence, it is closely tied to the beginnings of the city’s government and its tumultuous political history.

From palace...

The Palazzo del Podestà 1250-1502

The palazzo was originally built to house the city’s justice, or podestà, who maintained a court of judges, notaries, pages, trumpeters, troops and horses. With a design closely following that of the Palazzo Vecchio, its stately courtyard was surrounded by rooms decorated with lavish frescoes, including those by Giotto and his school that cover the walls of the Podesta Chapel. Heavily fortified to protect it from attack, the palazzo’s walls were built to protect the inhabitants from the countless, bloody battles between opposing factions vying for control of the city, which only ended when the Medici family took power in the 1430s.

to prison...

Palazzo del Bargello 1502-1858

The office of the podesta was abolished in 1502, and by the middle of the 16th century the palazzo became the city’s prison, where the “bargello” or “chief” of police, along with his agents and spies interrogated, tortured and tried traitors against the Grand Duke. The Great Hall was divided into 32 cells, with Gothic windows, arches and doorways walled up, and the colourful frescos were whitewashed. Those prisoners sentenced to death spent their final night in the chapel before being led to the scaffold, located on the site where the stone well sits today in the centre of the courtyard.

In the 1780’s, Tuscany was the first European state to abolish the death penalty, putting an end to the bloodiest chapter in the history of Florence. The Bargello continued its life as a prison though for the next 70 years.

to museum.

Museo Nazionale del Bargello 1858-

The prison closed down and the building vacated, and the result of 350 years of neglect was assessed. It took seven years to painstakingly restore the ancient palazzo to its original floorplan and reveal its original features. Giotto’s frescoes were uncovered in the chapel, after centuries of being hidden under plaster and whitewash, and new ceiling and wall decorations in Gothic style were painted to complement the ancient building. To celebrate its opening in 1865, the museum appropriately hosted a dedicated exhibition that celebrated the 600th anniversary of the birth of Dante Alighieri, the country’s greatest poet.

In line with the reorganisation of the Medici collection, the Galleria degli Uffizi was defined by its paintings and ancient masterpieces, while the Bargello was defined as the repository of its later European sculpture and decorative arts. The masterpieces of Italian Renaissance sculpture from the Medici collection were the first to be transferred from the Uffizi to the new Museo Nazionale del Bargello, the very first National museum in Italy.
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