Exit interview: Dario Nardella, Mayor of Florence

Exit interview: Dario Nardella, Mayor of Florence

The Mayor of Florence talks about his ten-year term in office, which will end this June.

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Thu 06 Jun 2024 11:53 AM

There is a map of the centre of Florence from 1584 by Stefano Buonsignori that depicts the Palazzo Vecchio, piazza della Signoria, bits of the Uffizi and the Vasari Corridor, with Neptune and Cosimo de’ Medici I on his horse. What is so moving about this 440-year-old map is that the places shown look exactly the same today as they did then.

Mappa Buonsignori dettaglio Duomo

In Florence we quickly realize that we are a part of a continuum, a place that is central to world heritage and a city where we can marvel at everything that has come before us. It is touching to understand how carefully the jewel is kept intact for our generation and for future ones. Anyone who has dealt with the Soprintendenza Archeologia, Belle Arti e Paesaggio, the section of Italy’s Ministry of Culture that protects cultural heritage, whereby any change to even private property must be reviewed and approved, often a frustrating process, still cannot help but feel quiet gratitude. All this beauty continues to exist because of the importance attached to maintaining the staggering heritage, and seeing Buonsignori’s map gives us a sense of what we are a part of.

Experiencing the Palazzo Vecchio for the first time is a revelation. The stonework and its crenellations are somewhat forbidding from the outside, an ancient government building structured to instill fear and respect. One imagines cold and clinical offices, chambers where centuries of Florence’s leaders have drafted laws in white stucco high-ceilinged rooms dirtied by wood-burning fireplaces. Nothing could be further from the truth. Entering the first courtyard designed by Michelozzo in 1453, we see a copy of the Putto with Dolphin, with water drawn by pipes from the Boboli Gardens coming out of the mammal’s nose. (The original is now on the palazzo’s second floor.) The frescoes of Austrian towns surrounding the courtyard date to 1565 and were painted by Giorgio Vasari in honor of Cosimo I de’ Medici’s son, Francesco, who married the Archduchess Joanna of Austria. Delving further, one finds the second courtyard with its grand columns that hold up the Salone dei Cinquecento, the massive council chamber built in 1494 by Simone del Pollaiolo to host 500 members. Vasari, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci as well as many others contributed works of art that would eventually cover every square metre of the hall. It’s difficult to imagine being surrounded at all times by such historic beauty. To that end, Florence’s outgoing mayor, Dario Nardella, answered my questions about what the Palazzo Vecchio means to him after a decade in office. 

Dario Nardella, Mayor of Florence

Palazzo Vecchio has been the Mayor of Florence’s office since 1872 in an historic building that dates back to 1299. As a mayor with artistic inclinations [Nardella is a violinist of note and a former professional musician, ed.], how do you feel about belonging to such history?

You never get used to such beauty. Every time I walk through the Salone dei Cinquecento, which is several times a day, I am aware that I am literally treading history. I am honored to be the mayor of such a beautiful city, so rich in artistic and cultural heritage. To every guest I meet in my office, the Hall of Clement VII, I cannot help but point out the frescoes on the walls and, when possible, I also act as a “tour guide” around the rooms of the Palazzo Vecchio Museum. It’s a rare privilege to work in a place like this.

With David and Hercules and Cacus guarding the doors, can you comment on Florence as a continuum down the centuries and what progress looks like in Florence today?

I often say that Florence has always been great when it has been contemporary. Florence has long stopped basking in its superb beauty and its equally superb past. In recent years, the city has profoundly changed face in terms of infrastructure, mobility, the environment and urban planning. In the cultural sphere, Florence has not been afraid to experiment with new approaches, from the opening of Museo Novecento to innovations at the Marino Marini Museum, Palazzo Strozzi and the Strozzina, as well as recent exhibitions by artists following a clear political and cultural choice that has allowed Florence to host some of the greatest interpreters of contemporary art, from Giuseppe Penone to Antony Gormley, Jan Fabre, Jenny Saville, Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst. We have placed works by these artists right outside the Palazzo Vecchio, next to the copy of Michelangelo’s David and other works in an evocative dialogue that is both classic and contemporary, which can only enrich our community as far as I’m concerned. In recent years, we wanted to impress and support a different guise on what has always been considered the cradle of the Renaissance, so that now the city also appeals for the many events focused on the contemporary, from education to art and employment, in the name of renewed vitality, experimentation and perspective.

The Palazzo Vecchio was cleaned after environmental activists from the Ultima Generazione movement sprayed washable orange paint on the façade in a protest against recent cost-cutting decisions made by the Italian Senate. Mayor Dario Nardella was one of the first to intervene. March 17, 2023. Ph. @agenzia_ansa

As an artist yourself, what is your reaction to the art that surrounds you every day and the sense of artistic history that pervades every corner of the Palazzo Vecchio?

As I mentioned, I think it is an extraordinary privilege to be able to work in a place like this that exudes history, art and beauty in every room. And I believe I have demonstrated to the world this true love I have for the palazzo where I spend most of my days when I grabbed hold of the protester who was defacing the museum’s facade. His actions were an affront to the city and its public heritage, but I experienced it as a personal act of vandalism because I love this city unconditionally. Violence against art, culture and beauty, which are defenceless and which arise from the goodness of humanity, can never justify the battle for a cause, even the most understandable.

Finally, this has been your “second home” for many years. What is it like preparing to leave this house and what do you hope to have left behind?

I have reached the end of this wonderful journey that began ten years ago. I have learned a lot from Florentines and from Florence: patience, the need to listen, not giving into controversy, not betraying trust, saying sorry. I have also learned not to complain because, in the end, being mayor is a great privilege, even in the difficult moments, of which there have been no shortage. Above all, I have learned what it means to serve a city and not to use a city. Florence has changed a lot in recent years. It is hard to summarize everything we have done in a few words: the urban regeneration of derelict buildings, the redevelopment of 32 piazzas, 200 kilometres of repaved streets and 70 kilometers of new sidewalks, three tramlines, new schools and nursery schools, 10,000 trees planted, major cultural events and the Tour de France, which will take place at the end of June. For me, this is the end of a story. But the city’s story goes on. We mayors are notes in a symphony, but what matters is the symphony itself: Florence.

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