This weekend is a spring shower of free-ness. Saturday, March 8, is the Festa della Donna (aka terrific lady day) in which you get free things just for being a girl (nothing new there, am I right ladies?!). For all you jealous fellas, Sunday is a Domenica del Fiorentino, meaning civic museums will not be gender-discriminate on who gets past the doors for free. I highly suggest thumbing through the lengthy list of free options and strategically knocking out as many as you can. We, however, are in the mood for a climb – a climb to the top of the Torre di Arnolfo.
I spent years walking past the Palazzo Vecchio, standing in its shadow in Piazza della Signoria, and gazing up. Looking, longingly, at the tiny winding staircase, the threatening crenelations, the majestic bells. I would replay scenes from Assassin’s Creed in my head, and stew on my envy of Ezio, who scaled the tower with more ease than Spiderman. I wanted up, bad! I wanted to see the city as the birds, the prisoners kept in the tower, and my favorite video game personality. Envious of the Marzocco (lion), perched all the way up on the tippy top, I pouted past the place pretty much every single day. As a dash of salt to my wounds, the city of Florence announced that the tower would be opened – FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER – one month after I moved back to America. I would continue to rant here about what a rude thing that was to do, but I got over it and have since made my dream climb a reality. I’m just going to go ahead and assume you all feel the same burning desire to scale the tower as I did, and insist that this weekend, you make that dream a reality, too (especially since it will be free and all).
First things first, the details: treks to the top of the tower begin at 10:00 AM and end at 5:00 PM, last entry at 4:30. Now, the Palazzo Vecchio recommends that you make a reservation. To be totally honest, it was unnecessary when I have been, BUT I have never gone on terrific lady day or a free museum Sunday. So we’ll let you use your own discretion. Tickets can be attained and reservations made in the Palazzo Vecchio ticket office on the ground floor. Your ticket will grant access to most of the Palazzo, so if your legs aren’t burning too bad after the trip, take a peek around (or collapse in a studiolo or something, which would also be cool). Once armed with your tickets, follow signs to the staircase that leads you to the entrance of the tower climb.
Heads Up: You can’t simply blaze up the steps, you have to get in line and wait for the guard to let you up. The climb is narrow and it cannot accommodate pulses of tourists all at once. Not that I learned the hard way or anything.
As you climb, climb, climb, let’s take our minds off of the deep burn spreading through our glutes and contemplate some history. The construction of the Palazzo Vecchio began in the year 1299, when Florentines decided that they needed to start showing off how important they were by building big towers. The most iconic, of course, went to the home of the Florentine Signoria and most prominent civic symbol in Florence – the Palazzo Vecchio.
The palazzo was completed in 1322 when the bell was hoisted up 308 feet to the top of the tower. The tower itself assumed its name, Torre di Arnolfo, after its architect, Arnolfo di Cambio. Militaristic architecture defines the glorified watch tower. Machicolations (openings where we see the tower widen about half way up) were installed in the event that Florentines needed to pour hot liquids or drop rocks on their enemies (let’s be honest, the French). The Marzocco, Florence’s lion mascot, and the Giglio, it’s logo, decorate the spire/weather vane.
About halfway up to the top, an open door will welcome you in, as it did Florence’s most dangerous traitors and criminals for centuries. Locked in the tower, these criminals had little chance for escape and many saw their last view of Florence from the their cell, as they were soon to be hung from the tower. One sure way out, however, was money. Cosimo de’ Medici had no problem bribing his way out when he was imprisoned for taking on the role of Florence’s accidental tyrant.
When you’re done playing cops and robbers in the prison cell, keep pushing to the top. Eventually, the sun will pop through and you’ll find yourself at the apex of the tower. Peek your head through the massive battlements for a view of Florence you’ve only dreamed of.
Take your time to enjoy watching the tiny tourists in the Piazza below, establishing your bearings on town, and imagining a time when the tower was not for the public, but true warfare. Then pat yourself on the back for tackling the climb.
Now, good luck getting down.