The Bargello Palace, a beautiful example of Gothic Florentine architecture, is one of the city's oldest public buildings. It was built for the People's Captain, a kind of Prefect foreseen in the constitution of the free City of Florence developed around the middle of the 13th century.
Built about fifty years before Palazzo Vecchio, its story is strictly linked to Florence's political happenings. With the fall of the republican institutions and the return of the Medici in the second half of the 15th century (who transferred political functions and representatives to Palazzo Vecchio), the Bargello Palace first became the seat of the Council of Justice of the Wheel Judges and, as of 1574, during the princedom of Cosimo I de' Medici, was transformed into a squalid jail with torture chambers and capital executions.
The Bargello name goes back to this period: Bargello was the Head of the Guards who arrested, questioned and ordered convictions. During an execution, the bell inside the tower called the 'Volognana' sounded slowly till the final moment.
And as a clear warning and indication of what the building was for, outside there was a stump which they used to put the victim's head on. During this stage in its history the Palace went through some changes: windows were closed, others were opened and, in general, it was considerably damaged.
It was only at the end of the 19th century, during the recovery period for Middle Ages historical-artistic heritage, that the Palace was returned to its ancient splendour: with restoration directed by Francesco Mattei the additions that had altered its original structure were demolished and decorations in that style were put in.
It became a National Museum in 1865 and the Palace was enriched by some of the most important Renaissance sculptures including the masterpieces of Luca della Robbia, Verrocchio, Donatello, Michelangelo, Cellini. Thanks to a number of important private art donations today the museum has a special place in the applied arts sector.