Corridor is Florence’s ultimate velvet rope experience, yet few people know of
its existence. A private overground passage that links the Uffizi
Gallery with the Palazzo Pitti, the walkway has echoed with the footsteps of both
royalty and tyrants. Hanging on its walls is one of Europe’s most exclusive art
collections. And now, by special appointment, visitors can see it for
of Florence’s key attractions, the story of the Vasari Corridor is linked to
the powerful Medici family, who rose to prominence in the 15th
Century. Cosimo I de' Medici, then the second
duke of Florence, purchased
the Palazzo Pitti in 1549, and up until the completion of Versailles in Paris in the early 18th Century,
Palazzo Pitti was considered the most opulent palace in Europe.
There was just
one problem for the Medici family: to travel from their new home to both the
Uffizi administration offices where Cosimo worked and the Palazzo Vecchio, their previous home, the Medici
had to cross the Ponte Vecchio, Florence’s main pedestrian bridge above the
Arno River. Today tourists encounter a gauntlet of flashy jewellery shops, but
back then the bridge was occupied with butchers and tanners who needed to be
close to the river for their businesses.
solution was bold. He would simply build an overground passageway above one
side of the Ponte Vecchio, reaching from the Palazzo Pitti to the Uffizi
for the corridor were twofold. Designed by Giorgio Vasari in 1564 and spanning
a length of 1.2km, officially the passageway was created for the celebration of
the Duke’s son’s marriage, but Cosimo was also a powerful man who craved
privacy and feared assassination. A section of the corridor passes through the
upper balcony of the church of Santa Felicita, which allowed the Medici family to
attend mass without having to mingle with commoners or potential murderers.
importantly, the corridor was a private passageway that was built on public
space, and pushed the limits of his power. Despite his immense political and financial
power, some pushed back on the construction. The Mannelli family refused to
have their small tower, the Tower dei Mannelli, demolished to make way for the passageway,
and instead the corridor had to sweep awkwardly around it.
the corridor would be nothing without the treasures that lie inside it.
is home to one of the world’s most important collections of artist’s self-portraits.
More than 1,000 paintings from the 16th Century to modern day grace
the walls, from artists such as Diego Velázquez, Marc Chagall, Peter Paul Rubens and Rembrandt van Rijn. The collection
was added to by subsequent generations of Medici, and artists have been known to
donate portraits as well.
Corridor is closed to the general public, so gaining access involves some pre-planning.
The Uffizi Gallery oversees the passage and it can only be visited on small group tours offered by private operators such
as Context Travel. Tours take around two hours, entering the corridor via the
Uffizi Gallery and exiting by a discrete door near the grotto in the Pitti
Palace’s opulent Boboli Gardens. No photos are allowed and groups
are escorted by Uffizi staff.
visitors, the only disappointment is the limited amount of time allowed in the
corridor (the Uffizi limits each group’s time in the corridor to one hour; the
rest of the tour is spent batting through the Uffizi’s crowds to the entryway.
You could stroll the corridor for hours trying to soak up the atmosphere and
appreciate the artwork, but the paintings are hung so densely, many masterpieces
are not even acknowledged, or afforded only a glimpse.
guided tour offers critical insight into the importance of the collection.
While most international curators often arrange their collections according to
style, artist, medium or location, the collection of art in the Vasari corridor
is unique in that it hangs chronologically, often in the same spot where various
members of the Medici family had originally displayed it.
Some self-portraits – such as one portrait where the artists is painting himself
in a mirror – reveal an eccentric flair not typically seen in 16th-
and 17th-century portraiture, while others make significant
statements about gender and allow insights into artistic identity. For example,
there were very few women painters at the time, and many of the self-portraits
have more humour or cheekiness than was often displayed in works of the period.
the centuries-old portraits have also watched over some of the most historic
events of the 20th Century. On the evening of 26 May 1993, a car
packed with explosives detonated near the Vasari Corridor. Five people died,
many more were injured and sections of the passageway were heavily damaged in
what was believed to be a Mafia attack.
In the 1940s,
Mussolini had the windows in the centre of corridor (the section that lies over
the Ponte Vecchio) widened to impress his guest, Adolf Hitler. Rumour, myth and
innuendo have it that Hitler was so impressed by both the view down the Arno
and the collection of art that it was the only bridge not blown up by German
troops as they retreated during World War II.
the widened windows taking in the classic Tuscan view, it is interesting to see
the crowds furiously snapping their own digital self-portraits on the street below.
All the while unaware of the priceless collection of self-portraits directly above