Palazzo Serristori, Florence

There’s a grand palazzo in Florence that is about to be renovated. New apartments will be available in this space in a few years, and, if you have a few million dollars lying around, you can be one of the new owners. This picture above is a marketing production: I have never seen the land between the street and the Arno river (not visible in the photo, but would be at the foot of the grassy areas) look like this, ever!

I have no interest in providing advertisement for this real estate enterprise, but I do appreciate the possibility of learning about the history of the building as well as seeing some of its features. I lived next door to this palazzo a few years ago, on Lungarno Serristori, and I walked by it all of the time.

This palace was the last home of Joseph Bonaparte, the brother of Napoleon, the kind of Spain and Naples, who took refuge there, and it was also the residence, again in the 19th century, of the Demidoff family of Russian nobles whose name is given to the square it looks onto.

But Florence’s Palazzo Serristori, originally a Renaissance villa on the banks of the Arno, not far from Ponte Vecchio, also played host to Medici pontiff Pope Leo X – whose coat of arms is in the main entrance – Puccini, Rossini, Lord Byron, Shelley, Richard Strauss and Wagner.

Queen Elena of Italy stayed there often too: her lady in waiting was Marques Hortense de la Gandara, who was married to Count Umberto Serristori, whose family had the palace built and lived there until the second half of the last century.

Palazzo Serristori spreads out over an area of 5,500 square metres of interior space and it has a 3,000-square-metre garden.

It was built at the start of the 16th century by Lorenzo Serristori to show how important the family of bankers, loyal allies of the Medici, had become. It was constructed on the site of a hunting lodge at the bottom of the hill of the current Piazzale Michelangelo, looking out onto the Arno in the area of the ‘mulina’ (the ‘mill’ and, indeed, the remains of a mill can still be seen in the basement).

Experts say that, on the basis of the documents found in the Serristori archive, it is presumable that the architects who created the original core of the building were Giuliano and Antonio da Sangallo together with Benedetto da Maiano.

According to some scholars, the beautiful spiral staircase that still connects the basement to the top floor is attributable to Michelangelo.

The residence can also lay claim to having the city’s largest giardino

It underwent a major transformation in the 1860s when Florence was the capital of Italy: for the construction of a new ‘Lungarno’ riverfront taking the Serristori name, part of the park and the palace were expropriated.

However, original elements survived the centuries and changes in taste, starting from the magnificent frescoed ballroom, the biggest in Florence at 250 metres in wide and 12.5 metres high and over 150 metres of foyer built in the 17th century when the building was extended under the Buontalenti.

Still perfectly intact and in their place in the hall are two splendid 18th-century Murano chandeliers, as is the original wooden flooring. Likewise the ‘Sala degli Specchi’ (hall of mirrors), the residence’s fireplaces made out of precious marble with the coat of arms of the Serristori and the terracotta stove with glass made by Ginori: there is only one other like it in the world.

Other fascinating features of the historic building include some secret passageways, one of which, partially uncovered, connected the palace to the other bank of the Arno.

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