|Bronzino's famous portrait of two members of the Medici family:|
Eleonora di Toledo and her second born son Giovanni
Exploring Florence in company of children isn't always fun. If you ever tried to steer a pram through the Renaissance city, you know what I'm talking about. But luckily, being in Florence with kids also means discovering things you wouldn't have gotten to as an adult only traveler. The Palazzo Vecchio family museum is a good example of this.
The civic museum in Piazza della Signoria is on the to do list of a never-ending stream of tourists. But to truly appreciate the countless rooms, stunning frescoes and centuries of history, you best book one of the guided tours especially designed with kids in mind.
Intrigued by all the tours Florence's family museum organizes, our group of old and young ended up joining Life at Court. This interactive tour starts off in Palazzo Vecchio's magnificent Sala dei Cinquecento and makes for a great introduction to the Medici family and their way of life during the Renaissance. Once the official and richly decorated rooms of the palace have been explored, the kids are invited to find a secret door taking the visitor to the private chambers of Cosimo I de' Medici and his Spanish wife Eleonora di Toledo (who had grown up at the Spanish court in Naples). The couple lived at Palazzo Vecchio for years before buying Palazzo Pitti on the other side of the Arno. Eleonora hated living in the fortress like Palazzo Vecchio, missed the gardens of her childhood and desperately craved for outside space for her children and herself. An issue that was remedied by the laying out of the Boboli gardens for her.
Being interactive at heart, this tour isn't just a succession of historical facts and biographical notes. Visitors explore many of Palazzo Vecchio's most beautiful rooms, but also get to play Medici by dressing up in copies of the family's Renaissance gear and hear about their infatuation with high-heels.
|Renaissance chic: Eleonora's red and madly plateaued party slippers.|
And I thought platform shoes were an invention of the 70s...
A most sobering experience for my naughty 6 and 8 year-old was hearing about the lives of the eleven children of the Medici family. During the Renaissance well-off families decided right after the birth of a child about his or her 'professional' future. A first born son was obviously destined to become a worldly ruler, second sons had to take the route to ecclesial life, and baby girls were either designated to become future wives of European princes or had to spend the rest of their life as brides of Jesus. This was not a sole issue of intellectual education. Second born Giovanni spent his childhood wearing somber priest like outfits whilst his older brother was allowed to parade around in princely fashion. One can only hope that Eleonora or some warm-hearted servant closed an eye when the kids had fun with some secret clothes exchange.
|Playing Medici. Yep, adults will enjoy it too!|
My Tuscan native having a go at being Cosimo I de' Medici.
But apart of exaggerated Renaissance dresses the tour also takes in down-to-earth aspects of upper-class living in the High Middle Ages. For kids planning to invent time machines, our truly knowledgeable and wonderful guide gave good advice on the workings of the Renaissance toilet - and most importantly of the hours of the day medieval roads shouldn't be walked due to flying objects arriving from above.
|Life at court - Palazzo Vechio family museum's wonderful tour guide|
My biggest discovery was the effect fashion had on architecture. How nice to hear that Renaissance architects were considerate enough to acknowledge the practical needs of the inhabitants of their houses. Just imagine Jean Nouvel having to design minute sized stairs, only because one of his clients insists on wearing plateaued slippers (I tried walking them - Eleonora must have dreamed of elevators!).
|'Flat' stairs leading to Palazzo Vecchio's private chambers|
Built to allow women with high footwear to walk comfortably
Travelling without kids? Lucky you! But in regard to a visit at Palazzo Vecchio, go ahead and book a family tour anyway. Just tell the guide that the kids are sick in bed (all that ice-cream!) or that you're researching for a future family reunion in Tuscany.
Palazzo Vecchio Family Museum in Florence
Differently themed tours are available in English, French, Spanish or Italian. All make for great visits, but to be able to find one in your language best book before coming out.
Piazza della Signoria, 1 (right next to the Uffizi museum)
Phone: +39 055 2768224; email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Opening time Monday to Sunday from 9.30am to 5pm.
Guided tours for two adults and two children 21€, for two adults and three children 23€.
You can find more info on how to best visit Florence with children in my Florence with kids and the Firenze card article. Also plan to explore Siena and Southern Tuscany together with the young ones? Click through to my What to do in Tuscany with Children page or read my advice about what to see in Siena with kids.