Quietly closing the door, he began his descent down the stone stairway located just behind the grand saloni, salons of his royal apartment recently reconstructed within the Palazzo Vecchio, Old Palace on Piazza della Signoria in the heart of medieval Florence. He made his way effortlessly through the hidden corridors leading to the small exterior door, opening onto the inconspicuous side street, Via della Ninna. Carefully glancing both ways to insure that he was alone, Duca Cosimo I de’ Medici made his departure from the Palace without anyone even suspecting.
The year was 1540 and Cosimo was excited about the completion of his grand project. He had built the long awaited residence where his banking family’s presence and power would continue to grow over the decades to come, influencing every aspect of Florentine life.
The original stone fortress, had finally been transformed into an incredible complex including the famous Salone dei Cinquecento, one of the largest rooms in all of Europe for Cosimo to hold court. He was surrounded by the greatest minds and the finest artists and architects of the Rinasciamento, Renaissance. They could conceive of and create incredibly large ornate spaces, and at the same time weave the most curious hidden passageways in and around them for escape from the enemy—or simply a respectful and inconspicuous exit, out of the public eye.
It was the rare Secret Passages Tour that drew us into the city nearly 5 centuries later. We have some undisclosed affinity with ancient cellers, tunnels, attics, hidden doorways and anything generally unseen. Perhaps it’s the allure of the unknown or the fascinating shadows that grace those spaces that make us want to explore further than we’re even allowed—and that’s exactly what we did that day, winding our way into the roof trusses over the grand salon. Incredible!
We made a similar secret tour into the inner chambers and prison of Palazzo Ducale, Doge’s Palace in Venice a few years ago. We were hooked. It was equally engaging as we literally walked through the middle of the ancient trusses that support both the roof and the enormous decorative ceiling of the Salon below. That experience only made the secrets of Palazzo Vecchio even more compelling. The fascinating truth is, that beyond every massive stone wall and imposing facade there are unseen secret spaces with hidden gardens where the spirit soars—where a delicate inner peace can be found.
Visiting the incredible masterpieces of Medieval Europe gives us broader perspective on who we are and a glimpse into the lives of our ancestral line, no matter how remote or loosely connected. But, more importantly, as we follow our muse, wandering through the shadowy halls and moody attics of the world’s most treasured places, we’re given silent passage into the meandering story of our own precious interior life.
As we explore the world around us, we explore the world within.
Following is a short video from our day of exploration in the palace. Perhaps you’ll catch a spark of curiosity yourself—leading down one of your own secret passageways!
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