The Palazzo della Signoria, better known as Palazzo Vecchio, is situated right in the heart of Florence. Built in 1299 by Arnolfo di Cambio, it is still today the city’s town hall and houses the office of the Mayor. But it is much more than that. It is also a fascinating museum that, sometimes, tourists fail to visit in their hurry to reach other more famous museums nearby, like the Uffizi Gallery. They will usually stop to photograph the building with its impressive tower and turrets from outside in the square and they may even wander into the frescoed courtyard known as the Cortile di Michelozzo but too often that’s the extent of their visit, distracted by too many other attractions.
Instead Palazzo Vecchio offers two floors as well as a mezzanine floor filled with remarkable paintings and sculptures by Michelangelo, Donatello and many others as well as the lavishly furnished private rooms where Medici family members lived and worked like the beautiful Chapel of Eleonora of Toledo, the wife of Cosimo I with its paintings by Agnolo Bronzino or the fascinating Map Room with its painted panels representing the world as it was known in the sixteenth century.
A little less famous but holding a mystery all of its own, try not to miss the Chamber of Hercules on the second floor. You will find representations of Hercules, one of the most famous heroes of ancient mythology are strongly present throughout Palazzo Vecchio as the Medicis, in their quest for power, identified with his courage and endeavours to overcome all the adversities in his way. However, in this Chamber dedicated to him, you will not only see the ceiling decorated with frescoes of his twelve labours but also a famous nativity painting of a Madonna and Child. This painting is popularly known as the ‘Madonna of the Ufo’ or the ‘Madonna of the Flying Saucer’. Painted in 1450 by Jacopo del Sellaio, the picture shows, in the centre, the Madonna in adoration of the baby Jesus who is propped up by the infant, St John the Baptist. Far in the background of the picture, behind the Madonna, on the left, there is a shepherd with a barking dog at his feet. The shepherd is looking and pointing upwards into the sky at what appears to be an oval-shaped flying object.
According to the American UFO Research Coalition, this painting is one of the oldest documents testifying the existence of UFOs and extraterrestrial beings. Others do not agree. For example, after considerable research, the art historian, Diego Cuoghi, who is also a member of Cicap (Comitato Italiano per il Controllo delle Affermazioni sul Paranorma – Italian Committee for Investigation of Claims on the Paranormal) has concluded that the object in question is simply a comet of the Nativity star.
How much more fun it will be for you to make up your own mind.