Duke Cosimo I of Tuscany (1519-74, reigned from 1537) had several good reasons for disliking to make is way on foot or horse from the ducal residence in the Pitti Palace to the governmental offices (uffizi) in what was to become the Uffizi Galleries.For one thing, plebeian crowds were dangerous: assassins might lurk everywhere. For another, summer heat and winter sleet were disagreeable. And the shops that lined the Ponte Vecchio, or Old Bridge, and hung over the Arno on both sides were occupied by butchers whose offal could drop straight into the river . . . and we may well sympathise with the ducal nose when it passed there in the heat of Tuscan summers. Hence in 1565 a ducal decree commissioned architect-painter-historian Giorgio Vasari (1511-74) to design and erect a covered corridor from the Pitti Palace to the Uffizi so that His Excellency might enjoy the ten-minute walk in solitude, safety, clement climes and olfactory comfort the butchers were summarily evicted from their shops and goldsmiths, still there to this day, installed. It is remarkable that the structure survived the terrific battering of the Great Florence Flood of 5th-6th November 1966, when the entire bridge shook on its foundations. Today it is used to house the Uffizis vast collection of self-portraits. Visits only by special permission.It may not be exaggerated to say that Florences town hall, the majestic fortress-like Palazzo Vecchio, or Old Palace, built gradually over four decades beginning in 1299, was for a century and a half the town hall of Western civilizationand certainly the nucleus of that ebullient riot of artistic creativity and intellectual fervour called the Renaissance. He, or they, who ruled here from about 1350 to 1550 set the cultural pace of Europe more than any emperor or pope, however much more powerful these may have been militarily and financially.The great buildings main attractions the frescoed halls, the gilded rooms, the vaulted cellars, the labyrinthine stairs and passages are readily accessible to visitors and well explained in more than one good guide in all the worlds languages. Yet the walls also harbour a secret world set aside from all that, a world of chambers, passages, hidden doors, arcane symbols, jealously guarded artistic treasures and signs of awakening science in which any reasonably perceptive visitor may, if so disposed, acutely sense the vibrations of the untameable spirits both good and bad that transformed the Middle Ages into the modern world. Only small groups are allowed to accede here the spirits shy away from crowds. We make arrangements for groups of suitable size.