What today is one of the most visited Italian museums, the Uffizi Gallery, was not for a long time intended to be a public museum – the ‘Uffizi’ (offices in Italian) were created in 1560 to house the administrative and judiciary offices of Florence, hence the name the institution still goes by today.
In 1560, Cosimo I de’ Medici, known as Cosimo the Great, the first Grand Duke of Tuscany, ordered the construction of the building to none other than the painter, architect, writer, and historian Giorgio Vasari, who was Cosimo’s favorite artist.
Vasari designed the building following a U-shape, with the offices facing across a courtyard, one end of the building opening onto the town square and the other opening onto the river Arno.
Vasari was also the one who built the secret corridor, known today as the Corridoio Vasariano, which connected the Uffizi to the Pitti Palace on the other side of the Arno (the palace was bought by the Medici family in 1549, and became the main residence of the ruling families of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany), passing above the Ponte Vecchio.
After Vasari’s death in 1574, the Uffizi building was completed by Bernardo Buontalenti, who was also tasked with the design of an octagonal room called the Tribune, which was to be the heart of what was originally intended as a private museum.
In fact, Cosimo I had the idea to place some the works of art owned by the family on the upper floors of the Uffizi, an idea that was realized by his son, Francesco I de’ Medici, the new Grand Duke of Tuscany, in 1581, when he set up a private gallery with statues and other precious objects on the top floor of the east wing of the Uffizi. Access to the gallery was only on request.
It was not until 1765 that the Uffizi Gallery was officially opened to the public, when the last Medici heiress, Anna Maria Lodovica, bequeathed most of the Medici collection from the past three centuries to the Tuscan state, requiring that it all stay in place and never leave Tuscany, declaring the Uffizi Gallery “an inalienable public good.”