The Hall of Geographical Maps is a room full of charm, located on the second floor of the Palazzo Vecchio. It features fifty-three geographical maps, depicting the world as it was known in the middle of the sixteenth century.
The environment was created by Giorgio Vasari between 1561 and 1565 by order of Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici to fulfill the dual function of cloakroom—the room where the most important documents were kept—and cosmography room.
This room is quoted in Dan Brown’s Inferno, as Robert Langdon and Sienna Brooks find a secret passage there.
Duke Cosimo wanted to represent in a single room the entire world as it was known then, because he had a strong interest in geography, natural science, and trade.
In addition, he wanted—covertly—to be celebrated as ruler of the universe.
Construction of the new hall, prepared by Vasari in collaboration with cosmographer Fra Miniato Pitti, provided frescoes depicting the constellations on the ceilings and large wooden cupboards along the walls, with geographical maps on the doors and images of fauna and flora of the respective territories on the bases.
On top of the cupboards, Giorgio Vasari wanted to place busts of princes and emperors and three hundred portraits of illustrious men.
Finally, in the middle of the room, he conceived two large globes: one celestial globe suspended in the air and one earth globe on the floor.
The ambitious project was partially unfinished.
Just a globe was built: It was placed elsewhere and brought back to its original destination only in the twentieth century. This famous globe is known as Mappa Mundi. Built by Stefano Buonsignori and Dominican friar Egnazio Danti in 1581, it was the largest in the world at that time.
Three hundred portraits of famous men were painted, but around 1850 they were transferred to the corridor of the Uffizi Gallery, where you can still see them today.
However, fifty-three geographical maps were completed. Thirty maps were painted by Egnazio Danti between 1564 and 1575 and twenty-three by Olivetan friar Stefano Bonsignori between 1575 and 1586.
Twenty-seven maps were taken from the Geographia by Ptolemy in the second century AD—updated according to sixteenth-century authors—and the other ones, including those representing the American continent, from several more recent sources.