Destination Museum: Uffizi Gallery – Florence, Italy

It is remarkable that a place name that translates as ‘Offices’ can be the repository of so many works of exquisite art. Located in the heart of the historic Centre of Florence, the Uffizi Gallery was originally envisioned as the administrative offices of Florentine magistrates; only the top floor was used as a private art gallery by the city’s ruling Medici family.

The foundations of the Uffizi Gallery were laid in 156, making it one of the oldest art galleries anywhere. Today, it is the most visited art museum in Italy and the 22nd most popular in the world. Over 2 million visitors take the opportunity to gaze upon its amazing collection every year. It is notorious for its long wait lines, which can leave eager art enthusiasts under the Tuscan sun for up to five hours in peak seasons.

The Gallery has renovated and expanded to counter this, more than doubling its exhibition space to 13,000 sq. meters (139,000 sq. feet) in 2006. The layout was changed considerably, going from just 50 rooms to 101, allowing it to accommodate more visitors at a given time and deliver a better and more comprehensive museum experience. The focus of the pieces is largely the Italian Renaissance period (14th to 17th century) but there are significant works that date back as far as the 12th century, too. Later pieces have also been included, giving the museum extraordinarily wide appeal. There is heavy focus on Christian themes, particularly on the birth of Jesus Christ and the martyrdom of saints.

There is no doubt that the Uffizi’s collection of paintings and sculptures is priceless – single works by the masters like Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Donatello, Botticelli and Raphael are worth many millions apiece. However, the Gallery has greater depth of character than many galleries that may be more popular and house more expensive and well know works. This is because those very same masters, especially Leonardo and Michelangelo actually frequented its halls in their prime, drawing inspiration from exhibited works and working on their craft.

The Uffizi Gallery is open from Tuesday to Sunday every week, but closed on New Year’s Day, on May 1, and on Christmas Day. Entry is free on the first Sunday of every month so expect larger crowds and longer waiting times. The operating hours are between 8.15 a.m. and 6.50 p.m. but extended in the summer (end of May to end of September) to 10 p.m.