In the Middle Ages, merchant families of Florence were quite wealthy, and they built impressive mansions, such as the Palazzo Davanzati. Visiting this palazzo, kids will step into the life of a noble family – a multi-story residence, with great halls for entertaining, beautifully decorated bedrooms, a private well, indoor bathrooms and kitchen.
The palazzo was built by the Davizzi merchant and banking family in the early 14th century. Look for Davizzi coat of arms – shield with red and white geometric design – throughout the house. In 1578 the Davanzati family bought the palazzo, and added their emblem – a charging lion.
Before going into the museum, look up at the exterior on the Palazzo Davanzati. On the stone facade is the Davanzati coat of arms, the charging lion. Next to sturdy doors, metal rings were used to tie up horses, other brackets higher up held torches and colorful banners at festival time.
This is a luxurious, but fortified palazzo, designed to protect the house in times of war.
From the street, step through studded outer doors into the loggia (museum ticket counter), walled off from the street to keep attackers out. Continue into the columned courtyard, which provided access to tradesman, but also could be completely closed up for safety.
Imagine the busy activities of a great house, with deliveries of oil, wine, fruits, vegetables, firewood, brought in from the countryside, and stored in storage rooms at this level. In the courtyard is a private well, water was hauled up with a pulley system to the upper floors.
Check out a painting of the Davanzati family tree (with emblems of great families of Florence), Davanzati lion emblem on the columns, and lion statue on the stairway.
On the first floor is a Great Hall, Parrot Hall (dining room), Peacock Chamber (primary bedroom), and small study with adjoining bathroom.
The Great Hall (Sala Madornale) is one long room, used for special events, banquets, celebrations for the large extended family. On the walls are tapestries made in Florence, terra cotta floor tiles, glass windows (an expensive luxury).
In the 14th century, Florence went to war with Siena, Lucca, Pisa, Milan, and the pope.
In the Great Hall, find the “murder holes,” trap doors that could be opened to pour boiling oil onto the loggia below.
Look into the face of a young boy – this portrait was carved around 1460.
The Parrot Hall, Sala dei Pappagali, was used as a dining room. The spacious fireplace is decorated with red and white Davizzi coat of arms, along with Ridolfo and Alberti emblems on either side (two families who married into the Davizzi family).
The walls are delightfully painted with geometric designs and plenty of parrots! High up are scenes of a garden with trees covered with fruits and flowering plants.
Also on this floor, notice easy access to the well. Pitchers suspended on ropes could be used to bring water to every floor in the mansion.
The Peacock Room (Camera dei Pavoni) is the primary bedroom. In the Middle Ages, during the day women gathered here to look after the children and socialize with friends. The room was furnished with chests to store linens and bridal dowry, cribs and miniature chairs for children.
The painted walls in this room are gorgeously decorated with peacocks, along with lilies, crowns, lions, and emblems of important families of Florence.
Second floor –
On the second floor is the upper Great Hall (Sala de Madornale), Day Room (Sala da Giorno), bedroom (Chatelaine de Vergy Room) with adjoining bathroom, and study.
Great Hall II
Look for tapestries (above) of the story of David and Bathsheba from the Bible, also a portrait of Giovanni di Bicci de’ Medici (founder of the Medici dynasty) wearing a red robe, and two 15th century bronze sculptures of children’s heads.
Paolo Davizzi and Lisa Alberti married in 1350 – this was their bedroom. The room is furnished with a painted wedding chest for bridal linens, strongbox (lily motifs), ornately carved wooden bed with red draperies, mythical creatures and knights on the bedspread, and more miniature chairs next to the fireplace.
In the adjoining bathroom are two bathtubs – the small tub is for a child.
On the painted walls, the horizontal band around the top is a story of courtly love (popular theme for marriage bedrooms), geometric patterns cover every inch of the walls – look for red and white Davizzi emblem, lions and crowns.
Third floor –
On the third floor is a spacious kitchen, and another big bedroom, called the Cloth-Covering Room (Sala delle Impannate), with comfy fireplace and adjoining bathroom.
In a multi-story mansion such as the Palazzo Davanzati, the kitchen was on the top floor – in case of fire, it wouldn’t burn down the house. The kitchen was also used for spinning wool and weaving cloth, so there are also tools for that, sewing box and lace bobbins.
In the large fireplace is a metal cauldron used for boiling water and cooking food, tool for mixing polenta, metal utensils for roasting meat, above the fireplace is a bellows to keep the fire going.
Food for a wealthy family was bread, wine, fruits, vegetables, fish, bacon, meat, grains.
Cloth-Covering Room (Sala delle Impannate) refers to the windows, originally covered with cloth, instead of glass.
The walls are beautifully decorated with garden scenes of trees, fountains and birds, and mythical animals in geometric patterns. On the fireplace and on the walls is the red and white Davizzi coat of arms, and other noble families of Florence, such as the Capponi and Strozzi.
In keeping with the family-oriented bedrooms in the Middle Ages, there is a blue painted crib, miniature chairs, gilded relief on the wall with Madonna and child with cherubs.
In the bathroom, the toilet facilities are a typical medieval “garderobe” – pee and poop fell down a chute to an underground cistern on ground level. Nice to have that wooden stopper to keep out the smells, and only wealthy people had this indoor convenience.
Coats of arms
All the noble families of Florence had heraldic emblems – look for the red and white Davizzi, and Davanzati lion around the palazzo.
The Peacock Room has excellent labels, identifying many other Florentine family coats of arms.
Visiting the Palazzo Davanzati
Palazzo Davanzati museum has a ground floor, and three upper stories.
To see the second and third floors, a timed entry is required. Call for a reservation +39 055 238 8610,.
Tip: For reservation by phone, ask at your hotel, or go to the tourist office Infopoint Bigallo at the Piazza del Duomo, they will call Palazzo Davazanti for you.
Palazzo Davanzati is closed – 1st, 3rd, 5th Mondays, 2nd and 4th Sundays each month. Hours are 8:15am – 1:30pm.