We recently had the pleasure of touring inside the Vasari Corridor in Florence Italy. The Vasari Corridor is an enclosed private passageway built in the 16th century by the Medici family to connect the Palazzo Vecchio to the Palazzo Pitti. This narrow elevated passageway allowed the Medici family and their privileged guests to travel freely and unnoticed and to have advantageous views of Florence and its populace. The Vasari Corridor snakes across many of Florence’s most important landmarks as it makes it way from the Palazzo Vecchio to the Pitti Palace, including the Uffizi Gallery, Ponte Vecchio, Santa Felicita church, and the Boboli Gardens. The Vasari Corridor remained closed to the public until the 1970’s when it was restored and opened for select special openings and for group tours provided by specialist tour companies. Today, you too can enjoy the privilege of going inside the Vasari Corridor in Florence and view the art collection on display within the corridor. We’ll give you all the information you need to book a tour yourself, tell you what to expect inside the Vasari Corridor, and share our own experience of touring the Vasari Corridor with Context Travel.
Basic Information for Touring the Vasari Corridor
Location of the Vasari Corridor?
The Vasari Corridor begins on the south side of Palazzo Vecchio and extends to the interior of the Pitti Palace; however, for security and safety reasons the full length of the corridor is not open to the public. The current entrance used to access the corridor is through a door in the Western Corridor on the Second Floor of the Uffizi Gallery and the exit used for visitors is in the Boboli Gardens near the Buontalenti Grotto.
Booking a Tour Inside the Vasari Corridor?
Currently the only way to visit the corridor is with a guided tour booked through a tour company that has been granted permission by the Uffizi to conduct tours inside the corridor. Tours must be booked in advance and tour sizes are limited, and tour groups are only allowed in the corridor for a maximum of 1 hour. There are several companies offering tours of the Vasari Corridor including Context Travel and Viator (several tour options), and some companies include a guided tour of the Uffizi and/or Pitti Palace as part of the tour. If you are visiting with a school group or other special group (maximum 25 person), you can also apply directly to the Uffizi Gallery to request permission to visit.
IMPORTANT NOTE: In 2015, Eike Schmidt, the new director of the Uffizi Gallery, noted that he would like to increase public access to the Vasari Corridor and lower costs of entry so more people can visit the corridor. He noted that he hopes that in the near future the Vasari Corridor will be accessible to the public (guided tour from an outside company will no longer be necessary) and that an entrance ticket for the Vasari Corridor will be introduced (separate from admission to the Uffizi Gallery). He also noted that he would like many of the self-portrait paintings moved from the Vasari Corridor to be placed in the main galleries of the museum for both their protection (there is no climate control in the corridor) and so they will be more accessible to all visitors to the Uffizi. Currently there is no planned date for these potential changes, but do check the Uffizi Gallery website for any updates and I will try to post updates to this post.
Length of Tours?
Currently, all the tours by third-party companies are limited to a maximum of 1 hour inside the actual corridor. During special openings by the Uffizi, the corridor has been open to visitors for a longer duration although these special openings are very infrequent.
Cost of Vasari Corridor Tours?
The cost of a Vasari Corridor tour ranges widely, ranging from about $70 per person to $220 per person depending on the size of group, guide credentials, length of tour, and tour inclusions. Currently, all Vasari Corridor visitors must also purchase Uffizi Gallery tickets to visit the corridor even if they do not tour the museum. Your tour guide should have already booked and collected the tickets before the start of the tour for you so you will not need to do this yourself.
Accessibility of the Tour?
There are a number of stairs at the beginning and end of the tour, so this tour is not currently wheelchair accessible. In addition to the stairs, tours of the Vasari Corridor are fairly quick paced as groups are only allowed in the corridor for an hour so this tour is not recommended for those with mobility difficulties. Some tour companies also do not allow young children.
What Not to Bring on your Tour?
If you can avoid it, do not bring large bags, backpacks, baby strollers, pocket knives, umbrellas, or other items that may need to be checked with you to the Uffizi. The tour is one-way so you will enter at the Uffizi Gallery and exit at the Boboli Gardens, so if you are asked to check anything at the Uffizi Gallery, you will have a relatively long walk back to collect your items, and the museum could be closed by the time you walk back depending on your tour time.
Vasari Corridor Tour with Context Travel?
We chose to do a tour of the Vasari Corridor with Context Travel as they are a company we have used several times and really love their in-depth and specialized tours and their knowledgeable guides. Context Travel is a tour company that started in 2003 and it offers both private tours and small group tours in over 30 cities worldwide across 5 continents. The company specializes in very small group tours (and private tours) and providing in-depth knowledge and hands-on experiences with guides who are scholars and experts in their fields of expertise. The company’s tours are generally a bit more expensive than other tour companies but most guests are happy to pay a bit extra for the quality of these tours. To read our full run-down on Context Travel, what differentiates them from other tour companies, and what types of travelers are their best customers, read our prior post about our very first Context Travel tour in Venice about Casanova. Context Travel offers a wide selection of tours in Italy, including numerous tours in Florence which include the Uffizi Gallery and Pitti Palace.
The Vasari Corridor tour with Context Travel is a 2-hour guided tour (1 hour inside the corridor) that includes an introduction with a small amount of sightseeing inside the Uffizi but the majority of the the time is focused on the history, architecture and art of the Vasari Corridor. The cost of the tour is currently €190/person (USD $214/person) plus the cost of the Uffizi Gallery ticket. Private guided tours for a group are also available for €1,050 (USD $1,180). Due to the special nature of this visit, the Context Tour visit to the Vasari Corridor is open to a group of a minimum of 6 persons and it can accommodate up to 12 participants. The easiest way to book this tour or any Context tour is online through the Context Travel website. You can also email Context Travel [email protected] them at their toll-free U.S. phone number +1 800 691-6036 or regular phone number +1 215 392-0303 during normal business hours.
**All Independent Travel Cats readers receive a 10% discount on any Context Travel tour when you book using our link: 10% OFF Context Travel tours or mention this post on the phone. Please let us know if you have any difficulty receiving your discount upon checkout.**
To find out more about the Vasari Corridor openings and updates, check out the Uffizi Gallery official website. The website also provides information about touring the Uffizi Gallery, booking tickets, current exhibitions, and other information about the museum.
Our Tour Inside the Vasari Corridor with Context Travel
This is a review of the Context Travel Vasari Corridor guided tour. As discussed previously, Laurence and I took multiple walking tours with Context Travel while in Italy, five in fact! We are proud to be part of Context Travel’s Deep Traveler network and to serve as ambassadors for this company. One of the reasons that spurred us to want to work with them as a partner was their in-depth and focused tours like this one. This tour was a perfect fit for our Grand Tour inspired trip project!
Meeting & Introduction
Laurence and I met up with our tour guide Molly McIlwrath and two other tour participants in front of a gelataria in the Piazza della Signoria. This is the main square in Florence and has been the main political hub in Florence since the 14th century and is one of the most popular meeting places in the city. Molly introduced herself and we learned that she holds a MA in Italian literature and specialized in Renaissance and Early Modern periods for her PhD coursework. She spent several years studying and living in Venice and Sienna, and now teaches courses and works as a licensed tour guide in and around Florence. The other two tour participants were friendly older American gentlemen friends who were traveling with their wives, but had chosen to do this tour while their wives were busy shopping.
From the piazza, we strolled towards the Palazzo Vecchio, or Vecchio Palace, and Molly started giving us a brief history of the Medici family and the Vasari Corridor. The 14th century Palazzo Vecchio became the seat of the Medici family during the 16th century and was later used as the city’s town hall. The building still houses government functions, although a large part of the building is now a museum. In front of the Palazzo Vecchio once stood Michelangelo’s David (now in the Accademia Gallery) although a full-size copy still stands in its place today. The Palazzo Vecchio is very relevant to our tour of the Vasari Corridor because the Vasari Corridor starts (or ends) at the Palazzo Vecchio. This part of the corridor is currently closed to the public but you can see the exterior of the Vasari Corridor as it connects the Palazzo Vecchio with the Uffizi Gallery.
A Brief History of the Vasari Corridor & the Medicis
We then made the short walk to the Uffizi Gallery. Molly already had our Uffizi Gallery tickets so we only had a very short wait as we went through security.
Travel Tip: As noted above, do NOT bring large bags, backpacks, baby strollers, pocket knives, umbrellas, or other items on this tour that may need to be checked with you as you go through security at the Uffizi. The Vasari Corridor is a one-way tour and it is a long walk back from the Pitti Palace (tour ending point) to collect your items. Also there are no bathrooms or toilets within the corridor so use the facilities in the Uffizi Gallery before entering the Vasari Corridor if needed.
After we entered the Uffizi Gallery, Molly took some time to go over the history of the Medici family and the Vasari Corridor. The Medici family was a wealthy banking family that consolidated and wielded great political and social influence from the 15th to 18th centuries. The Medici family rise to power began with Cosimo di Giovanni de’ Medici in the 15th century and the family would produce 3 Roman Catholic popes, numerous cardinals, and two regent queens of France, and later the family would became hereditary Dukes of Florence. The family essentially ruled Florence and Tuscany, but never had absolute power as there were some checks on their power. By the 18th century the dynasty was in a steady decline with difficulties producing heirs and serious financial troubles. In 1743, the much-loved Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici died and the Grand Ducal line of the House of Medici died with her. The Medici family history is filled with power struggles, scandals, murder plots, debauchery, inbreeding, strategic marriages, and plenty of excessive living. However, you’ll also discover great contributions to advances in banking and accounting, noble philanthropy, and a great patronage of the arts and education.
One of the greatest legacies of the Medici family is their patronage of arts, education, and architecture. They were patrons of some of the greatest artists and thinkers of the time, especially during the Renaissance, including Galileo, Michelangelo, Donatello, Brunelleschi, Leonardo da Vinci, Sandro Botticelli, and Peter Paul Rubens among many others. The Medicis are responsible for the existence of many of the main architectural features in Florence, including the Uffizi, the Boboli Gardens at the Pitti Palace, Forte di Belvedere, the Vasari Corridor, the Medici Chapel, and the Palazzo Medici. Upon her death, Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici bequeathed the Medici’s large art collection, including the contents of the Uffizi, Pitti Palace, and the families villas to the Tuscan State under the condition that no part of the family’s collection be removed from Florence. It can be argued that it was this generous bequest and condition that the collection remain in Florence that has made Florence the great cultural tourist attraction that it is today. Many other great Italian family art collections, such as that of the Farnese in Rome, were sold and scattered but not that of the Medici. I think Florence owes much to this woman as the Medici collection today still forms the bulk of the art that most tourists come to see in the many Florentine museums, palaces, churches, and villas.
The building of the Vasari Corridor, or Corridoio Vasariano in Italian, was commissioned by Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici’s in 1565 and amazingly took less then 6 months to complete. The work was completed by Italian architect and artist Giorgio Vasari which is where we get the name Vasari Corridor. It was built in connection with the marriage of the Duke’s son, Francesco, to Johanna of Austria. The building of the corridor caused quite the sensation in Florence at the time as not only did it very visibly demonstrate the power and wealth of the Medicis but many people were forced to allow the corridor pass through their private buildings and towers. One family strongly opposed allowing the corridor to pass through their tower, and the builders were forced to go around the Mannelli Tower. The Vasari Corridor begins on the south side of Palazzo Vecchio and extends to the interior of the Pitti Palace, allowing the Medici family and their privileged guests to get from the family’s home to the family’s offices without having to use the streets like common people. This elevated and enclosed private corridor offered protection both from angry Florentines (the Medicis were not always very popular) and disagreeable smells, and provided an advantageous view of the city and the populace below. The corridor could of course be traversed on foot, but it is said that the Medicis also had a small 2-person litter in the corridor so the Medicis could avoid walking the route if they wished! I think the Medicis should win an award for creating the best commute to work possible.
After the Grand Ducal Medici family line died out in 1743 and the Lorraine family took over the Pitti Palace, the passage was mainly unused and fell in disrepair, suffering damage over the years due to fire, bombings, flooding, bad weather, and lack of maintenance. Interesting events in the corridor’s modern history include a visit by Hitler and Mussolini and a terrorist bombing by the Mafia which will be discussed further below. The corridor was largely closed to the public for centuries until the 1970’s when it was restored and opened for select special openings and for group tours provided by specialist tour companies. It was also at this time that the self-portrait collection and other artwork was hung in the corridor for visitors to admire.
A Tantalizing View of the Uffizi Gallery
As we waited for our timed entry to be let into the Vasari Corridor, Molly gave us a brief and tantalizing glimpse into some of the artistic treasures of the Uffizi Gallery. Note that the amount of art you’ll see inside the Uffizi Gallery is quite small and dependent on time, so don’t expect an actual tour of the museum but your guide will stop to show you a few highlights on the way to the Vasari Corridor entrance. One of our first stops was the Lorraine Atrium which you enter before the main corridor and museum rooms. We were greeted by a number of marble busts of members of both the Medici and Lorraine families. Next we walked into the Eastern Corridor which is painted in the grotesque style (be sure to look up at the ceiling) and lined with statues and a series of portrait paintings on the wall close to the ceiling. The small portraits, called the Giovio Series, are of famous people throughout history and the larger portraits, the Aulica Series, are members of the Medici family. Molly used some of the Medici busts and portraits to help illustrate the stories about the Medici family and the importance of portrait painting throughout history.
Our next stop was to take a look into the Tribuna Room (currently you can’t access the room, but have good views of it from two viewing points). The Tribune Room, or the Tribuna degli Uffizi, is my favorite room of the many great rooms in the Uffizi Gallery. Designed in 1584, this is the oldest room of the museum in which the Medici family originally displayed their most important works of art. The octagonal richly decorated room was designed specifically to display art and would become one of the most popular draws for young English aristocrats making the Grand Tour in the 18th century. Perhaps the most famous piece in the room is the “Medici Venus” marble statue from the 1st century, which was often considered the most beautiful female figure ever made! For instance, British writer John Evelyn said, “nothing in sculpture ever approached this miracle of art” and the English poet Lord Byron devoted five stanzas of his famous Childe Harold to this statue. This statue was considered one of the best sculptures during the 18th century and the erotic nature of the statue made it very popular. Visitors would debate whether they preferred Titian’s painted Venus of Urbino (which also hung in this room but is now upstairs) or the Medici Venus, often asking each other which one they’d rather take to bed! Grand Tourist Thomas Steavens wrote this about one of his sexual liaisons while in Italy: “We lay the next night at Lucca and the night after at Florence, I was there three days, without once thinking of the Venus of Medicis . . .” which clearly shows the importance of the statue for those who visited Florence. It is nice to see a bit of what those in the 1700’s would have seen when they visited the Uffizi in the Tribuna Room.
We also had some time to briefly look at the Leonardo da Vinci room which includes some interesting works from very early in da Vinci’s career and the Botticelli room. The Botticelli room at the Uffizi contains two of the most popular and recognizable works by Botticelli, La Primavera and The Birth of Venus. Molly was able to give us some historical and artistic insight into these two beautiful paintings while we waited for our entry into the corridor. This very short tour of just a few of the rooms of the Uffizi Gallery really made us want to return to see the rest of this amazing art collection!
Travel Tip: If your tour of the Vasari Corridor does not include a full guided tour of the Uffizi Gallery, you will probably want to make time to explore the gallery at another time. Be sure to reserve tickets for the gallery in advance to avoid long lines (and tickets being sold out). It can be visited either on your own or with a tour group. If you are only going to go to one art museum in Florence (there are several great ones!), I would recommend the Uffizi Gallery and you can read about our tour of the Uffizi (and several other places in Florence).
Finally, a few minutes before our time entry we went to wait outside a nondescript door on the second floor to be let into the corridor. We were then met by a female Uffizi staff member who unlocked the door and led us inside the Vasari Corridor!
Inside the Vasari Corridor
Once passing through the secret door, there are a series of stairs to climb down to get inside the Vasari Corridor. The Uffizi Gallery staff member accompanied us for the rest of the tour but was there for security reasons and to help us navigate the corridor whereas Molly did all the actual guiding during the tour. As you get into the corridor and the door is shut, the sudden quiet becomes very noticeable. As far as we knew, we were the only ones inside the Vasari Corridor during our tour and it was amazing to have the passageway to ourselves after our visit to the crowded Botticelli Room of the Uffizi! Once inside you start to see artwork on the wall. One of the first things that Molly pointed out to us was actually some damaged artwork that is kept to serve as a reminder of a terrorist attack in 1993. A car bombing linked to the Italian Mafia killed several people and affected a section of Uffizi Gallery and several paintings were badly damaged inside the Vasari Corridor.
The corridor currently contains one the largest and oldest collections of self-portraits in the world, as well as other art from the 16th and 17th century as well as some busts and some recently added contemporary art. The art focus of the tour was definitely on the artist’s self-portraits and the collection includes a number of famous artists including Filippino Lippi, Peter Pau Rubens, Diego Velázquez, Rembrandt, Bernini, Van Dyck, Rosalba Carriera, John Singer Sargent, and Marc Chagall. In case you are wondering, a self-portrait is exactly as it sounds, a painted representation of an artist painted by that artist. It was interesting to see the ways in which various artists painted themselves, some seemed quite accurate and realistic, some flattering, and some quite strange! There is a clear change in the self-portraits as we moved from the older self-portraits to those of contemporary artists.
Although the artwork was an important focus of the tour, the architecture, history, and symbolism of the Vasari Corridor itself was probably the most interesting facet of the tour. The Vasari Corridor is one of the strongest architectural symbols of the power that was wielded by the Medici family in Florence during the Renaissance era. The fact that the corridor was built, and so quickly, attests to the power and influence of this family. Inside the Vasari Corridor, we got a sense of what it was like to be a member of the Medici family as we traversed the kilometer-long passageway and were able to look down upon the Florentines and tourists below. We were able to see out of small windows that line many portions of the passage.
Some of the best views are from the large windows as the Vasari Corridor runs on top of the famous Ponte Vecchio. This medieval stone bridge has throughout its history had shops built along it as was common in the medieval period, and it is this feature that makes it so popular and unusual today. During the time of the Medicis, the bridge was lined with butcher shops and after the building of the Vasari Corridor, the butchers were ordered by the Medicis to move their shops because of the unpleasant smells from the meat. The bridge was then mainly taken over by goldsmiths, and today you’ll find goldsmiths, jewelry shops, and souvenir shops on the bridge.
If you have been to Florence, you have likely walked along this famous bridge and may or may not have noticed this passsageway set atop the bridge. From the windows in the Vasari Corridor, you can get good views of the Arno River and the people walking along the bridge. You can also see two of Florence’s other bridges, the Ponte Santa Trinita and Ponte alla Carraia, both of which were destroyed by German bombs. It seems that we have Mussolini and Hitler to thank for these great river views and perhaps even for the preservation of the Ponte Vecchio itself. In 1938, Hitler visited Florence and toured the Boboli Gardens, Vasari Corridor, Uffizi Gallery, Palazzo Vecchio and other highlights of the city and is said to have enjoyed the city and its vast collection of art. Mussolini arranged for the windows facing the Arno River to be enlarged in the Vasari Corridor prior to Hitler’s visit, and it is said that Hitler ordered the retreating German military during World War II to spare the Ponte Vecchio (most of the other bridges in and around Florence were blown up) because he enjoyed his visit to the bridge. Hitler probably did appreciate the view from the windows of the Vasari Corridor and the bridge itself; however, I am not sure any evidence exists that Hitler personally gave an order to save the bridge. Another theory is that the Ponte Vecchio (and therefore the Vasari Corridor) was not blown up simply because buildings on both ends had been destroyed (making it difficult to access) and it was unlikely that the pedestrian bridge could support the weight of tanks or armored vehicles and was therefore of little value to the military.
After crossing the Arno River, another viewing highlight comes as the corridor passes through the façade of the Santa Felicita church. Here you’ll find a large window that looks onto the balcony and has a good view directly onto the altar of the church. The Medici family would watch church services here from this privileged viewing point. Today, the view from the corridor is partially obstructed by grating but you can still see directly into the church.
The corridor continues in the Oltrarno district through rows of houses, becoming more narrow before it enters the Boboli Gardens, which is an expansive park and set of Italian-style formal gardens designed by the Medici family and home to a number of statues and fountains. It is here that our time inside the Vasari Corridor came to an end and the Uffizi staff member unlocked the door for us to exit. All guests exit at the Boboli Gardens exit located near the Buontalenti Grotto. Note that the Vasari Corridor actually continues further and ends in the gallery of the Palazzo Pitti, but this section of the corridor is not open to the public at this time. The Medicis also had a secret passage that led from their home in the Pitti Palace to their fortress, Fort Belvedere (Fortezza di Santa Maria in San Giorgio del Belvedere ) that sits atop a hill adjacent to one end of the Boboli Gardens that was designed to be used in times of attack or war.
Sometimes visitors to the Vasari Corridor are escorted out of the gardens by the Uffizi staff member directly after exiting, and other times you are left here and can do a short amount of exploring of the gardens before exiting. We had some time to explore the Buontalenti Grotto and Molly also invited us all to walk with her to a hill in the Boboli Gardens that has a great view of the Florence Duomo. Laurence and I had actually already been to the viewing point during a prior visit to the Boboli Gardens so instead we all decided to exit since the two other men in the group were anxious to meet their wives before dinner. So we said goodbye to our group members and actually ended up having a quick coffee with Molly after the tour on our way back to our apartment which was a nice ending to our tour.
Travel Tip: The Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens are also great places to explore in Florence if you have the time. The Pitti Palace is divided into a number of museums and is the largest museum complex in Florence. It is less crowded than the Uffizi Gallery and give you a better sense of where and how the Medici family lived and contain a large collection of art, furniture, jewelry, ceramics, clothing, and other objects that belonged to the family. Depending on your interests you can buy entrance into all the museums, only the main gallery (the Palatine Gallery & Royal Apartments), only the Boboli Gardens, or whatever combination you prefer. You can read more about our tour of the Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens.
The Vasari Corridor from the Outside
Being inside the Vasari Corridor is obviously a unique experience and one that only a handful of other visitors to Florence have the opportunity to relish. However, from an architectural standpoint, I was also very excited by the exterior of the Vasari Corridor. Our tour only examined a small section of the corridor from the outside as most of the tour is spent being inside the Uffizi Gallery followed by an hour inside the Vasari Corridor itself. So Laurence and I later took the time to retrace our steps but from the outside looking up at the structure of the Vasari Corridor. We also stopped to visit the interior of the Santa Felicita church which is worth a short stop. I really enjoyed doing this walk of the exterior and recommend it to anyone as a follow-up to a tour inside the Vasari Corridor or as a free way to experience the Vasari Corridor without doing a tour. Note that at times you will “lose” the corridor as it goes into buildings but it is fairly easy to trace if you know the general path.
Overall Thoughts on Touring the Inside of the Vasari Corridor
Being able to walk inside the Vasari Corridor was a unique and wonderful experience, providing access to a new perspective of Florence. The corridor was also a quiet and peaceful place which was a nice break after visiting the busy Uffizi Gallery. This tour also gave us a better understanding of both the Medici family and Florentine history. The self-portrait collection is an artistic treasure and it was interesting to see how various artists chose to portray themselves on canvas. Molly was a wonderful guide and the tour was very informative as has been our experience with all Context Travel tours we’ve taken to date. We would have loved to have an extended tour that included walking along the exterior of the corridor but this was easy enough for Laurence and I to do later on our own. We felt this added to the experience, along with additional visits to the Uffizi Gallery and Pitti Palace which are connected by this private passageway. I would not recommend a visit to the Vasari Corridor to everyone as tours can be a bit expensive and the art inside the Vasari Corridor is certainly not as famous as other art in Florence. Visitors with little time in Florence may want to prioritize other places on a first-time visit. However, I think that traversing the inside of the Vasari Corridor is a perfect addition to the itinerary of those travelers who enjoy visiting unique places and have a strong interest in both art and history!
Do you think you’d enjoy this Context Travel tour of the Vasari Corridor? Have you been inside the Vasari Corridor? As always, feel free to comment and we’re happy to answer any questions about our tour. Also for those interested in booking any walking tour with Context Travel, don’t forget to use the discount link provided earlier in the post to receive a 10% discount!
**Disclosure: We were provided a complimentary tour by Context Travel in order to write a review and provide feedback; however, this article contains only our own honest thoughts and opinions. We specifically chose to take and review the Vasari Corridor tour.**