The Palazzo and its 94 meter tall tower lord over Piazza della Signoria. It was designed by Arnolfo di Cambio between 1298 and 1314 and played home to the randomly selected guild members, chosen every two months, to serve as consuls (priori). Cosimo I made it the center of government and his residence in 1540. Though he moved out in 1562, the palace is still home to the mayor and the city’s council.
The massive interior has an overabundance of rooms, art and attractions, punctuated by the gigantic Room of 500 (Salone dei Cinquecento), where the Council of 500 once met. Dating from the 1490s, the room is 53 meters long and 22 meters wide (174 feet long and 72 feet wide) and is lined with incredible battle scenes depicting the (more than a little exaggerated) victories of Cosimo I against Pisa and Siena. At the center of the ceiling, a panel shows Cos himself, looking down, god-like, on the Florentine universe which he created.
Guided tours (2 euros per tour) are a good idea. There’s a variety of themed tours to choose from, including children’s tours with costumed actors and the “Secret Passages” tour, which leads through a variety of, well, secret passages. Each tour lasts about an hour.