Introducing the Fabulous 50 by Wendy Perrin | Published December 2005 |

Hidden Florence (The Arts, History)
Explore the Vasari Corridor in Florence. For the museum only, guide Alessandra Marchetti (+39 3473869839;;  


Hidden Art in Florence
Perched above the ancient shops lining the Ponte Vecchio in Florence is part of a Renaissance passageway that runs half a mile from the Palazzo Vecchio, north of the Arno, to the gardens of the Pitti Palace, south of the river. You can easily look at its tiny barred windows and red-tiled roof without ever knowing how bizarre and remarkable it is. The passageway houses the world's largest collection of self-portraits by a galaxy of great artists (and, incidentally, provides some of Florence's best views). But getting inside is almost as tough as it was back in 1565, when the structure was commissioned by Cosimo de Medici, all-powerful patron of the arts and the tyrannical ruler of Tuscany. Cosimo, who had many enemies, wanted to be able to walk between his workplace and his residences safely and invisibly, and to have a means of escape in case of an uprising. So he had architect Giorgio Vasari build the passageway, now known as the Vasari Corridor. (Cosimo didn't like the stench from the butchers' shops then lining the Ponte Vecchio, so he replaced them with goldsmiths, which is why the bridge is home to so many gold traders today.)

The Vasari Corridor is now under the care of the Uffizi Gallery. Once in a rare while, organized groups of thirty are allowed to visit, but timing your trip to coincide with a tour and securing a spot is a major logistical challenge. What does it take to get inside on your own, and is it worth it? To find out, I called several travel agents who specialize in Italy. One told me access was impossible. Another said that it was possible but not worth the cost because "the art is nothing to crow about." The rest claimed that it was both possible and worth it. Eventually, I signed up with the first travel agent who managed to gain the necessary permission from the Italian authorities.

The person who actually secured the permission, it turned out, was my gem of a guide, a charming art historian named Alessandra Marchetti. A friend of hers (who is also a former art history professor) conveniently heads the office at the Uffizi that determines who gets to see the corridor.

Nowadays the passageway is accessed from the Uffizi's second floor—a busy hallway with an enormous wooden door that a security guard was waiting to unlock for Alessandra and me. In an instant, we traded the teeming museum for a silent tunnel where I was the only tourist.

For me, the thrill of the Vasari Corridor actually had little to do with its art (the Uffizi's masterpieces are in the main building, of course—not in the corridor). The thrill was how the passageway made Florentine history come to life in such a visceral way. As the tunnel wound this way and that, growing progressively narrower, darker, and more rough-hewn, I felt like I was walking back in time. From the passageway, you can see outside without being seen—which reflects both the paranoia and the power of the Medicis, who traversed the city above their subjects' heads, spying on everyone. Today you can peer down into the shops on the bridge, into hotel rooms along the river (I watched guests eating breakfast in a hotel restaurant), and even into Santa Felicita, since the corridor cuts right through the church's balcony. You find yourself standing behind two thronelike chairs in what seems a dark opera box at the rear of a church that is brightly lit; again you sense the power that the Medicis must have felt as they saw without being seen.
The paintings in the corridor were more interesting as a portfolio of artists through the ages than as great art. Peering hard to make out the dimly lit self-portraits of four centuries' worth of masters—from Vasari himself to Rubens, Van Dyck, Velázquez, Ingres, Corot, John Singer Sargent, and Chagall—I began to feel almost surrounded by ghosts. The passageway grows still narrower and darker as it runs through the Oltrarno neighborhood, abutting the walls of Florentine homes. It ends with a blast of light as you exit the Pitti Palace's Boboli Gardens, next to the Buontalenti Grotto. Thanks to Alessandra's clout with the gardens' security guards, the normally locked grotto was opened so that we could meander through this ornamental, fountained enclosure, built in the 1580s and used by courtiers for secret trysts.
The Uffizi's and Alessandra's fees together totaled five hundred dollars. I had been to Florence twice before but had somehow failed to gain the appreciation of Florentine history, and secrecy, that I felt this time around. Which is why, for me, the experience was worth every cent.

Tuscany and Umbria The Collected Traveler Barrie Kerper

For many years, I thought hiring a guide orjoining a waiking tour was a waste of money, and, worse, offended my sensibilities as a well-prepared traveler. I figured ifl’d read enough and had a good map I had no need for a guide. But this was before I learned that a really good guide can teil you more than you already know, and can turn a great trip into an outstanding one.
In an article entitled “Paris at Your Feet” (The Atlantic, August 1998), writer Francine Prose noted that “the waiking tour is, by nature, a mildly humbling experience, asking us to declare our selves sightseers, outsiders—and to abandon all hope of passing for locals.” I believe this was at the crux ofmy disdain for guides, but again, I was wrong. I was not only pleasantly surprised but amazed to discover that good guides are often scholars, specializ ing in various areas of history, art, and architecture, and they share insights into contemporary society and politics that visitors mightordinarily miss. Guides are often discerning when it comes to food, handmade crafts, and favorite local stores and can therefore recommend great places to eat and shop. And, they can help vis itors navigate locales in the most effìcient way possible, allowing you to cover a lot of ground in less time.
The cities, towns, and villages ofTuscany and Umbria will all be enhanced by the expertise of a guide, and though I make no claim to knowing more than a few, I can guarantee that the fol lowing three guides are worthy of their profession:
Alessandra Marchetti (+39 3473869839; arranges visits to well—known sites like the Uffizi and the Accade mia in Florence as well as many lesser-known churches, museums, and monuments. Her rates vary and she’s available for haif—day and full—day tours. Alessandra is also particularly adept at arranging ac— cess to places that are ordinarily closed to the public (see the Vasari Corridor entry below for more details on how I met Alessandra).

Paolo Cesaroni (+39 3473803408; is not a historian but a driving guide, and he has a passion for Tus cany in particular that is nearly unmatched (but he also knows the byways of Umbria). In the interest of fuil disclosure, Paolo is Alessandra’s partner in business as well as in life, and he is not only knowledgeable but a ton of fun to be with and very charming. He’s been an independent guide since 2003 after previously working for a tourist company in the prestigious Virtuoso net work. Paolo wants his guests to see Italy through his eyes, to see how Italians really live, and he prefers to include smaller towns and villages on itineraries along with larger towns like Siena and San Gimignano. The most rewarding part of his job is when clients have an unforget table trip, and he told me that at the end ofeach guest’sjourney, “I have a new ap preciation of my country.” (And, by the way, Paolo’s favorite part of Tuscany is La Maremma, which he refers to as “the new Chianti.”)

Rick Steves' Florence & Tuscany

Alessandra Marchetti, a Fiorentine who has lived in the US, gives private walking tours of Florence and driving tours of Tuscany (mobile +39 3473869839;
In Rick Steves' Florence & Tuscany 2006 - 2007 - 2008 - 2009 - 2010 - 2011 - 2012 - 2013 - 2014 - 2015-2016-2017-2018-2019-2020-2021.

Dreaming of Florence by Barbara Milo Ohrbach

If you would like a loveiy and informative way to become acquainted with Florence for the first time, do cali Alessandra Marchetti. She has her masters in art history’, has been a guide for fourteen years after living in the U.S., and is now doing research in the Michelangelo family archives. She also offers special visits to places like the Uffizi Galleries on Mondays when it is ciosed.

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