The “Old Palace” was built in the early 1300s and sumptuously redecorated by the ruling Medici family in the 16th century when Grand Duke Cosimo I transferred his official seat here from Palazzo Medici. The courtyards, official halls, and private apartments feature elaborately decorated ceilings and statues by such luminaries as Donatello and Michelangelo, giving a sense of the wealth of Florence’s most powerful family during the height of the Renaissance. The most important rooms are the vast Salone dei Cinquecento, decorated by the celebrated Renaissance painter Giorgio Vasari and used as seat of the 500-member Grand Council; the secret Studiolo di Francesco I, also decorated by Vasari; and the Map Room.
Because of the palazzo's wealth of art and history, its museum is best visited with a tour guide, especially during the crowded months between May and October, when the wait to enter can be long and skip-the-line tickets are a must. Visitors can also tour the archaeological excavations under the building's foundations to see the uncovered remains of the Roman theater of Florentia.