Visitors may be flocking to Palazzo Medici Riccardi for the exhibition Picasso: The Other Half of the Sky, which presents Edward Quinn's photographs of the artist; but another reason to see the Palazzo lies below ground level. Seven years of excavations – promoted by the Città Metropolitana di Firenze and overseen by the city’s Soprintendenza Archeologia, Belle Arti e Paesaggio – have come to an end, and an archaeological trail is now open to the public.
Michelozzo's cortile, accessible today either from via Cavour or via dei Ginori, is one of the more recent projects in the site's building history, which goes back more than two thousand years and down by some six metres. The route is billed as a descent through seven historical eras, a length of time that has profoundly altered the Florentine geography. The Mugnone stream, which now runs considerably further north, used to cut through the site; and the old streambed has yielded Roman amphoras, cooking pots and toothpicks among its numerous finds, the earliest of which date back to the first century B.C. A number of medical tools have also been unearthed, suggesting that the site in the first century A.D. was the home of a Roman doctor.
The Palazzo was a Medici residence from 1445 to 1659, whereupon it was acquired by the Riccardi family, who spent sixty years and 120,000 scudi on restructuring and enlarging the complex. The third archaeological stratum includes the old Medici stables, where an old switchboard, attached to one of the walls, controlled the trams in pre-First World War Florence. The earlier archaeological layers, however, can be seen by looking down into the wells, where water has already started to collect, soon after they were excavated dry.
The number of visitors to Palazzo Medici Riccardi has swollen significantly over the last two years, thanks to its numerous exhibition spaces on the ground and first floors, and it is hoped that its subterranean exhibition will only boost its popularity.
Palazzo Medici Riccardi opening hours: Monday-Saturday:9.30am-1pm and 2-5pm. Closed on Wednesday. Sunday and holidays: 9.30am-12.30pm