Documentary series. Using the latest 3D scanning technology, Alexander Armstrong and Dr Michael Scott explore the romantic city of Florence.
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Italy. I just love this country.
The people, the places,
a history that reaches back over 2,500 years.
From the birth of the Roman Empire,
through the glories of the Middle Ages,
to the flowering of the Renaissance,
its achievements are just breathtaking.
But behind its glorious facades,
so much of that invention and creativity still remains invisible.
Look at that.
I'm exploring three of my favourite Italian cities
to discover how their hidden treasures
played their part in the making of Italy,
and of Western civilisation.
Using the latest 3-D scanning technology,
we'll reveal the secrets of how these cities
made Italy a powerhouse of the Western world.
The last stop on our tour is Florence,
the most romantic of Italian cities.
Ah, it's just me. It's just me and them.
I'll be discovering how this city on the banks of the River Arno
burst out of the Dark Ages
to become the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance,
an age unparalleled for art,
Helping me discover how high art
was nurtured by low intrigue
is my expert guide,
Dr Michael Scott.
Oh, that was a kick to the face.
We'll meet the powerful families behind it all, the Medici.
Godfathers of the Renaissance,
they ruled from hidden corridors of power.
This is not somewhere the public can go.
No, no, this is really secret.
Our scanning team will build the world's most extensive 3-D model
of the Medici's city
to reveal how this world of intrigue
was the foundation of Florence's Renaissance glory.
This is Italy as you have never seen it before.
Welcome to Italy's Invisible Cities.
A nice place for a country drive.
Ah! But what a country drive!
I mean, this particular country.
Look, here we are in Tuscany.
You can just see why people, for generations,
have loved coming to Tuscany.
These glorious views -
you've got vineyards, you've got olive groves,
you've got the chimes of church bells from distant campanile.
You've got ruins like they've just stepped out
of a Renaissance old master painting.
Once again, I'm hitching a lift with Dr Michael Scott.
He's taking me to one of his favourite cities,
home to thousands of the world's art treasures.
We're going to discover what makes this city tick
and what made it such an incredible engine
of the Renaissance.
Today, Florence is a magnet for tourists,
drawn by its art and architecture...
..not to mention some of Italy's finest ice cream.
Who could resist?
Ciao, come va?
Xander, go for it. What would you like?
Please may I have...
'But none of the wonders we can enjoy in Florence today
'would have been possible
'were it not for just one family - the Medici.'
Now, I have to warn you here,
it was drilled into me when I was little, by my grandfather,
So, my little affectation,
which comes from no authority of my own at all,
is to say MED-itchy. We're just going to have to...
-There you are.
-We're not going to fall out over that.
No, we're not, we're not.
And you can see them everywhere we look.
Right there in the corner, up there, above the church there.
The balls in the shield.
I've been seeing these Medici balls.
-You will see Medici balls.
-That's a Medici shield?
The banking symbol.
The six balls. Three balls for a pawnbroker, six balls for a Medici.
-There we are.
-You can never have too many balls.
The Medici first came to Florence at the beginning of the 13th century
when Bad King John was signing the Magna Carta in England.
The family started out as humble merchants,
but went on to make millions.
Known as "God's bankers",
they fought a ruthless power battle for control of the city.
They were also patrons to some of the greatest artists in the world -
Leonardo da Vinci,
The first stirring of Florence's golden age began here.
This great monster of a Duomo,
dominating the landscape
for miles and miles around
and just imprinting the unmistakable identity of Florence
on these parts.
Every little street you walk down,
every tiny little back alley...
..gives some sort of view of this.
I don't want to take away from its exquisiteness,
but I always look at it
and imagine it's waiting for the...
most enormous half of lemon to be squeezed on top of it.
The dome was completed in 1436,
over 250 years before St Paul's in London.
But what's truly remarkable
is that, to this day,
no-one knows how its dome was built.
Our scanning team is already at work,
creating our 3-D model of the city.
I hope their scanning technology
will also help us reveal the dome's secrets.
As they get to work,
Michael is going to show me
why the dome is still a mystery of engineering.
I mean, my word, that is...
That is truly magnificent.
It's been called a vault of heaven.
And it is extraordinary how impressively different
the octagonal structure is.
And just the plain hugeness of it.
The dome spans 45 metres.
It makes you look up to heaven
but keeps your mind firmly on hell.
I could spend all day down here
and I really mean that,
because I'm not brilliant with heights,
and I know Michael has a little challenge for me.
-Keep a hand on the wall!
-How are you feeling?
I'm extremely relaxed about being very high up.
-Just don't look over the edge.
-Yeah. And don't look...
-There's a sort of...
There's a, sort of, swirling chasm of hell down there.
I mean, that is...
That's cruel, isn't it?
with its great dome,
was dreamt up in the 13th century
to show off the city's growing power...
..but the knowledge of how to build an unsupported dome
had been lost with the Romans.
So, for 140 years, this balcony was as high as you could climb.
Quite high enough for me, thanks.
The end of the cathedral stood open to the elements.
Finally, a committee of the great and the good -
including the Medicis, of course -
held a competition to find someone to solve the problem.
The guy who came forward
was a man called Filippo Brunelleschi,
and he is the only one who comes up with a solution
that meets all the criteria -
no external buttresses,
doesn't need massive scaffolding inside,
can be the octagon,
and can encompass this massive reach.
But presumably a massive gamble
-because, if he'd never built anything before...
..they had only his word for it...
-No-one had built anything like this before.
So, he presents his plans and they say... HE SCOFFS
It's even more pie in the sky than that.
The way he gained their trust is with...
the humble egg.
And he said, "OK...
"you need to have faith in me that I can do things others can't.
"Here's an egg,
"ask the other competitors
"to make this egg stand up
"on a marble plate."
They fail, obviously,
as all good apocryphal stories go.
Of course, I'm longing to know what happens.
-So, what does he do?
-System of matchsticks?
Can't have external buttressing on this egg.
Of course, of course, of course. I'm so sorry.
It needs to stand of its own accord.
He simply, he takes the egg...
That's it, is it?
-And then all his competitors say,
"Well, if we'd known that was what you were going to do,
"WE could have done that.
And he goes, "Exactly.
"If you knew my plans, you, too, could do it."
So, Brunelleschi, who'd probably never even put up a tent before,
got to build his dome...
..but, very unhelpfully, he kept his plans secret
and destroyed the blueprints,
and no-one could work out how he did it.
Until now, perhaps.
We're using our 21st-century technology
to help solve this 15th-century mystery.
Michael's off to see how the scanning team is getting on.
It's quite amazing, really. We're scanning down on ground level here,
but we're seeing right the way up into the dome
and then we're going to creep around
into all those hidden away intricate spaces.
We're going to be able to position ourselves digitally
somewhere where we just can't go physically.
And Brunelleschi was doing all of this
without any scan, any engineering,
any technology, really, whatsoever.
What do you think he would have made of scanning?
I mean, I think if Brunelleschi had scanning, he would have used it.
Whether he told people he used it,
I'm not so sure about.
But he was a massive fan of accuracy
and of technology as well,
and tying together creativity
with the best technology that was available at that time
to help him do amazing new things.
While we wait for the scans
that might just reveal the secrets of the dome,
I want to find out why people like the Medici
were determined to pursue such an impossible dream.
To find out, Michael's taking me on a 50-mile drive
across the Tuscan countryside.
He's going to show me a renaissance version
of keeping up with the Joneses,
which drove the people of Florence to ever greater heights of ambition.
We're off to Florence's neighbour...
It's just so impressive, isn't it?
I mean, obviously it's one of the most famous structures
in our civilisation, but it's so beautiful
and to see it up close is quite something.
Well, it's become so representative of Italy, hasn't it, as a monument?
But actually, when it was built
in the 12th century and 13th centuries,
this was Pisa's attempt
to put the city on the map.
This was Pisa saying,
"We are one of the great maritime republics of Italy
"and we are as good as, you know, Florence or any of the others."
This was monument wars, if you like.
You know, "My tower is bigger and better than yours."
It's very beautiful.
I mean, quite aside from its comical leaning.
I mean, it really does lean. Look at it this close up.
In 1173, a century before Florence hatched its own plans,
Pisa set about building this spectacular new cathedral complex,
with a very special bell tower.
Some of our scanning team have got here before us.
They've already started work
with an odd looking bit of technological wizardry.
Matt, and Luca, look at this.
-How you doing?
-I've been longing to ask you about this new kit.
-Luca, what have you got here? This is a...
A backpack with... I mean, it looks like a sort of Hoover,
I should be plugging a nozzle in here
and we could get this place tidy in no time.
But we've got... What are all these lenses here?
So, we've got five cameras,
so we're taking panoramic images in every direction,
and a couple of scanners.
So, this is like one of our normal scanners,
but it's actually scanning 16 positions at a time.
Spinning round, spinning round, taking a section of the space.
Then we have another scanner on the top.
So two scanners, five cameras.
And this, presumably, is a much more efficient way of doing it.
-It is, yeah, yes.
-Luca can do it at walking pace.
Plenty of time to, kind of, take in the surroundings.
-Coffee in one hand.
Coffee in one hand, guidebook in the other.
-Very well done. Carry on.
-Off you go, Luca.
I'm way out of my depth here.
And now Michael's throwing me even more off-kilter.
So, prepare yourself...
I'm already... Look at it.
It's like stepping onto a pitching ship, isn't it?
Isn't it amazing?
And going in a circle at the same time as leaning,
AND the same time as ascending,
it's kind of an assault on the senses.
It's very unsettling, actually, isn't it?
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah... Absolutely.
It's not entirely pleasant.
The tower is eight storeys high,
with its famous lean just under four degrees off-centre.
Our 3-D scans reveal a skeleton image of the tower.
It can help us see how the medieval builders tried to correct the lean.
Things started to go wrong
almost from the word go.
After just three storeys had been completed,
it became clear the tower was leaning.
Soft clay and sandy soil
had destabilised the foundations.
Work stopped for almost 100 years,
but then they tried a novel solution.
They made storeys four, five, six and seven
shorter on one side
to try and straighten it up.
It didn't help, of course.
Finally completed in 1372,
almost 200 years after they'd started building.
Look at that, they must have been so thrilled
to have FINALLY put the lid on this!
The Pisans never gave up trying.
In one last attempt,
the top itself was added at a jaunty angle to the rest.
I love that they persevered with it.
And at the time when you want to appear all-powerful and all-knowing,
to acknowledge your fallibility and celebrate it...
I'm sure they didn't see it that way,
but you can't help but look at it
and feel just a warmth in your heart.
A warmth for human endeavour.
-I mean, this is the...
-BELLS TOLL LOUDLY
'I'm now feeling that warmth in my ears.
'Caught out enthusing about a bell tower,
'we'd lost all track of time.'
Our scans of Pisa are finished.
This is the most detailed 3-D model, of the cathedral ever made.
I can really see how, 650 years ago,
it must have impressed -
even with its leaning bell tower.
But at least the Pisans
finished their cathedral.
It must have irritated the Medici, no end,
that, by the time the Pisa tower was completed,
Florence's cathedral had been domeless for 76 years.
This would never do.
By now, the Medici were one of the wealthiest families in Europe -
Florence, the banking capital of Italy...
..and they wanted a cathedral to match.
I'm excited to be back in Florence,
to find out how Brunelleschi pulled it off.
Our 3-D scans of the dome are in.
For the first time,
I can begin to see how Brunelleschi did it,
and what a spectacular structure it is.
The scans reveal Brunelleschi's first trick -
the Dome isn't just one dome, but two.
An outer shell and an inner shell.
How do you do?
'I'm hoping historian and writer Ross King can tell me more.'
But first, there's another climb.
A mere 463 steps this time.
Well, here we are,
between the two domes,
with the inner dome on our right,
the thick inner dome, about four-feet thick at this point,
arching up, as you can see.
And we have this magnificent little space to stand between
and peer up and, in some places, peer down.
It's quite exhilarating, isn't it? Just such power.
As we move between the two shells,
but look at the pattern of brickwork here.
It's extraordinary, isn't it?
There are four million bricks used in the dome
and, because brickmakers had never made a brick that shape before,
Brunelleschi had to cut...
Apparently, he used root vegetables.
He would whittle them to try to show them...
-..the sort of shape that he needed.
Cos the angle... The bricks going down at that angle...
-..and it's cut on this plane here, on this plane...
There are three different slightly...
Boom! Your brain slightly explodes.
But that brick could only go there.
-It couldn't go there, it couldn't go there,
it couldn't go there, it couldn't go... That is the brick.
My respect for Brunelleschi is growing with every brick.
Even the floor we're walking on had a structural role.
It's a sandstone ring
that wraps around the dome,
like the hoops on a barrel.
So, is it all beginning to make sense?
Well, do you know, Ross...?
If I'm discovering anything,
it's that my tiny brain
is just incapable of...
..holding all of that.
-I mean, it is...
-Well, I think you're not alone.
I mean, it's... It's an amazing feat.
I mean, it's multiple feats carried out by,
I think, one of history's great geniuses
who did not want us to know how he did it.
But what Brunelleschi didn't count on was our scanners.
'Now it's time to get a proper look at them,
'the closest we'll ever get
'to the blueprints Brunelleschi took such trouble to destroy.'
Whoa! And up, we go. Flying up.
This is what we could only imagine when we were there.
HE EXHALES AND LAUGHS
For me, this is the moment, though, when you just pop in here...
..to suddenly have it laid clear to me that
there's not much between us and
this interior fresco, and that cavernous fall.
Look at that.
Look at that.
It's solid and it's there, as you say,
that all the business is being done.
You can see the angles of the bricks there.
What I'm longing to see
were the rings...
that Ross pointed out,
the sandstone bound rings.
That cross-section, there.
You can see the stone rings, though, can't you?
from the bottom...
Number one, two,
three and four.
Right the way up.
This was Florence bursting out.
I mean, I look at St Paul's now and just think, "Really?
"Really, Christopher? Really?"
"Better next time, please."
To see it through this technology
is just to see...
..everything that we couldn't quite see on the day.
To fly up between the skins,
just to enjoy the sheer power and the...
..mad magic trick
that Brunelleschi's pulled off.
In 1436, 140 years after it was first dreamt up,
Florence's dome was finally completed.
It's bigger than St Peter's in Rome, and St Paul's in London.
And to this day, it's the biggest brick dome in the world.
Brunelleschi's dome kick-started a surge of creativity and innovation.
The Medici's ambition and power was growing.
Now they had plans for the rest of the city.
Our emerging 3-D model of Florence
will reveal just how much of it
became the Medici's backyard.
So this, if you can believe it,
is the Medici's private home.
I mean, look at it.
It's just comical, isn't it,
how no attempt is made to uniformity in these huge great...?
They look like they're sort of built out of the cliff.
-I mean, it's a fortress.
-It is, completely.
-I've seen a Victorian prisons that look less impregnable.
I mean, look at it. It must be a rock climber's dream.
People must long to climb, hand over hand,
up to the stone cornice up there.
This was the Medici's castle
but, unlike Europe's medieval kings,
their wealth and power came without the security of royal birth,
so they kept themselves hidden away from the mob outside.
Well, out of strong
shall come forth sweetness.
Look at this, we've come from the fortress outside to this.
Various different iterations of the Medici coat of arms.
It's an interestingly...
balled coat of arms that, isn't it?
They're like sort of the balls of a simnel cake, aren't they?
Just...duh, duh, duh!
It pulls no punches. Cosimo, the guy who built this place,
is the first to be born into real super wealth of the Medici family,
and the first to really start using it for civic patronage and power.
And the Medicis are riding the waves
of Florentine power brilliantly at this point.
Are they council members? Are they...?
They're not in any official position of power. They don't need to be.
Everyone that IS is in their pocket...
-Oh, that's clever.
-..or owes them money, or is banking with them,
or is a great personal friend.
This great fortress
was the Medici HQ.
It helped conceal their covert operations and plots,
and reveals a lot about how they saw their own power and status
as they rose to domination.
Welcome to the Medici's private chapel.
Technically, this is a Bible story,
-this is the procession of the Magi...
Everything is, effectively, the Medici family.
It starts with Lorenzo,
the chap on the white horse.
But my favourite by far is the chap next to him, on the donkey.
The kind of, the humble donkey but then, you know,
who else do we know entered town on a humble donkey?
-Looks a bit shifty, doesn't he?
"I've got my eye on you," kind of, in a beautiful, Medici type of way.
-You know, "I'm ready for anything that can happen."
There's the Medici...
-Absolutely. They're everywhere.
Every horse's harness, whether it's a Magi
or whether it's one of the horses,
every part of this picture
has got something that screams "Medici" at you.
These beautiful frescoes are by the Florentine artist Gozzoli.
It's pretty audacious,
placing yourself in a biblical setting
and even aligning yourself with the son of God by riding on a donkey.
But there's a twist to this Medici vanity.
Here we have the journey to Bethlehem.
Medicis have put themselves
on the road, you know,
they're putting the hard yards in here.
They're pilgrims, they're still some way from Bethlehem.
The message is unmistakable, really,
"You have to keep striving,
"you haven't arrived at the hallowed city yet."
Our scans show how this gem of a room
is buried deep within the walls of the Palazzo.
It's absolutely private and secure.
The Medicis knew that to be public
was to be a target
and they had good reason to crave security.
Soon after this was built
and they were living here,
towards the end of the 15th century,
two of the young sons were attacked
as they went to Mass in the Duomo.
One of them was stabbed 19 times, dead,
the other managed to flee and escape back here
to the safety of these walls.
So, why the...? What was the beef?
Well, it was just because the Medici were,
as a powerful family, holding the strings of power.
Obviously, they had enemies, the other powerful families in Florence.
So, in this case, it was a family called the Pazzi family.
-Just another family vying for...
And so the Medici begin their plan of attack for revenge,
which the Medicis took very seriously.
I was going to say, you didn't want to upset the Medicis.
As a result of that conspiracy, 80 people...
were murdered, were sentenced to death effectively,
as a result of their attempt on the Medici's life.
And in Florence, they didn't just bring down the guillotine.
Instead, they literally chucked them out the top windows,
with nooses round their necks,
and let them dangle.
So, when you saw the town hall of Florence,
you saw the enemies of Florence, the enemies of the Medici,
decaying and swaying in the wind.
Decaying bodies and murder plots.
This is the dark underbelly
beneath the beauty of Renaissance Florence.
It's that secret side of the city
that our scanners are seeking to map.
I want to know if any of the rival dynasties,
like the Pazzi family,
survived the Medici's vengeance.
While I go on the hunt,
Michael's heading for the square of the Holy Cross Church, Santa Croce.
But he's not going to Mass.
He's going to Calcio Storico.
That's medieval football to you and me.
Years ago, when I lived in Florence,
I came to this historic Florentine event.
Take football, add rugby and boxing,
add some ultimate wrestling,
put 54 people in a sandpit,
and that's basically Calcio Storico.
It translates as "football"
but it's about as close to football as, frankly, nuclear war.
This is the semifinal
between the blues, Santa Croce,
and the reds, Santa Maria Novella -
two districts of the city.
And as you can see, they take the rivalry very seriously.
Oh, here we go.
The blues are on!
Go, go, go, go, go, go, go.
Oh, that was a kick to the face.
That should definitely be an expulsion.
It can be difficult to square this reality
with the beauty we think of when we think, "Renaissance Florence" -
the sculptures, the architecture,
but, actually, the two are linked.
It's out of the fury and the energy that is created,
and the passion with which Florentines live their lives,
that the Renaissance art, architecture
was fuelled to reach new heights of achievement.
There was clearly as much treachery on the football pitches of Florence
as there was behind the walls of the palazzos,
but I've managed to get south of the river unmolested.
The Medici line died out in the 18th century,
but some of their archrivals survived.
I'm fortunate enough to have been asked by the Frescobaldis
to go and visit them in their Palazzo Frescobaldi,
where they have been living for who knows how long.
Today, the family's best known for its wine business,
but I'm told there's a secret place in their palazzo
that's linked to their turbulent past.
-Alexander, how are you?
I'm very well. How do you do?
-Very nice to meet you.
-Very well. Thank you.
-I show you something special.
-So, this is all of Frescobaldi palazzo here?
Three palazzos and then completely redone
and rebuilt in the 17th century by Matteo Frescobaldi.
And then they made this secret passage to enter.
Oh, I see. So, here you are.
-Here we are.
-Sit at your private altar, here, and hear Mass.
You're part of the church
but hidden away.
We're part of the church and...
really, it's part of our house.
-You can say, "Amen."
-And still be part of the service.
But what was the purpose of this secret passage?
Why was it so important not to be seen?
Not to be seen, because they were, you know...
At that time,
they want to stay very close. Not too far...
-Safe, very safe.
Because many families, many important families
from the opposite side of the River Arno,
You know, Frescobaldi and Medici fight.
Yeah, I bet.
It's because there was a Medici killed at Mass,
Congiura dei Pazzi.
I don't know if a Frescobaldi was involved with this.
-I don't think so.
-Oh, I doubt it very much.
Sometimes I come here, also, with my glass of wine...
Oh, I bet you do.
..because I think it's a lot better to stay here.
In the fresh, you know, and to have this mystic atmosphere.
Quite right. Turn a glass of wine into a sacrament.
Yeah, why not?
Just like the Palazzo Medici,
these walls conceal far more than meets the eye.
The Frescobaldi were equally paranoid about their safety.
Today, four branches of the family still live here.
The Marchesa Rosaria is introducing me to her husband and sister-in-law.
And, of course, it would be rude to leave
without sampling some of the family wine.
The Frescobaldis and these various other families,
from time to time,
have been tremendous rivals.
How are relations nowadays
with your leading Florentine families?
Definitely very good.
-Very much better?
Maybe there have been, yes, some period where we were against,
but normally we have been also very friendly.
Definitely, I suppose,
in the last two or three centuries.
Definitely, very friendly.
Please tell me that you now go to Mass through the normal door.
You don't feel you have to go through the secret chapel.
We go... I go to Mass
through the normal door.
Quite right. That's very reassuring.
I, too, am going to risk a visit to the church through the main door
in broad daylight.
I would never have guessed that these plain walls
concealed one of the finest examples
of Renaissance architecture.
And so here, right next to the Frescobaldi Palazzo
is the church of Santo Spirito,
designed by our old friend, Brunelleschi.
You can bet that,
as news of this building passed across the Medici desk,
it would have been greeted by a heavy sigh.
"Come on, lads, we need to do something bigger, better."
And so, when the Medici needed a new mausoleum,
they turned to the genius Michelangelo.
Creator of Renaissance masterpieces,
like the Sistine Chapel in Rome
and the sculpture of David.
Cosimo Medici had died in 1464,
and it was his grandson, Lorenzo,
who first spotted Michelangelo's talent.
He took in the 14-year-old artist
to be educated with his own sons
in the Palazzo Medici.
Michelangelo became one of the family.
Who better, then, to create a lasting monument to the dynasty,
just a few hundred yards from their fortress home,
than their old family friend?
So, this is the Medici's local church.
It was a local parish church pre-existing,
but what we're really interested in is actually that dome there,
because THAT is the work of Michelangelo.
Oh, for heaven's sake.
I guess in exchange for the digs that they've been providing.
All the milk that had his name on it in the fridge.
-How are you?
-How do you do?
-Fine, thank you.
-Welcome to Michelangelo's!
Monica Bietti is the director of Michelangelo's Chapel
at San Lorenzo.
Her enthusiasm for the place is infectious.
It might be smaller than the Duomo,
but it's perfectly formed.
This is all by Michelangelo,
the drawing of the architecture
and also the sculpture that you can see.
Both the Medicis and Michelangelo
have something that lasts for eternity.
The art is at the top of the life.
And they are to remain.
The life finish, but the art remain.
Unlike the marble sculptures,
the relationship between the Medici and Michelangelo
didn't stand the test of time.
In 1527, the people of Florence rose up against the Medici
and they were forced into exile.
Michelangelo refused to go with them.
The great artist stayed in Florence and joined the rebels.
So Michelangelo, who'd grown up with the Medici...
-..then betrays them.
-The Medici eventually come back.
They come back and they will be the rulers of Florence
in the 16th century, so Michelangelo picked the wrong side.
And so Michelangelo was really afraid and go away,
and stayed in a secret place.
Here in Florence,
but here - very, very near here.
We can see the secret room.
I think we need to see this, don't you?
-I need to see this.
-Monica, lead the way!
I'd had no idea that Michelangelo had turned his back on the Medici.
And after just three years in exile,
they were suddenly back.
I can see why Michelangelo needed to disappear.
-Was he in here?
You must open this door.
Oh, I see.
This is a real trap door, here.
Oh! DOOR CREAKS
This is not somewhere the public can go.
No, no. This is really secret.
It remain open.
We won't get trapped.
-But we have to be careful, Xander.
Yes, pay attention.
Michelangelo wrote that he hid for six weeks in a tiny cell,
entombed like the dead Medici above.
Though hiding from a live one.
"To forget my fears,
"I fill the walls with drawings".
Oh, I see.
'For over four centuries, nobody was able to find this tiny cell.
'Then, during some building work in 1975,
'this little room with discovered.'
-Xander, look at these.
-Are these charcoal sketches? Are they charcoal?
The authenticity of the drawings has been debated,
but many, including Monica,
are convinced they're the work of Michelangelo.
-Here's a man terrified for his life.
-He's hiding down here.
If he goes outside, he's going to be killed,
and then he starts sketching on the walls out of...
boredom? Out of...?
I suppose it's what he does, you know.
It's the natural thing for him to do.
Yes, I think that he is thinking about his life,
and draws everything that he has...
..in his mind.
Do you recognise this one?
-Oh, foot! It's a foot, I see.
A very big foot.
-It's his David.
-It's Michelangelo's David.
-Good. It is.
It is Michelangelo's David.
So, many of these are figures that he has already painted...
-..in the Sistine Chapel and elsewhere.
I guess you could say these are, kind of, his greatest hits.
He's revisiting some of his...
Yes, he's revisiting.
Yes. Like an autobiography...
Exactly, the highlights, the highlights of my oeuvre.
We're just a stone's throw from Palazzo Medici -
talk about hiding in plain sight.
Our scans show just how close Michelangelo's cell was
to the home of the Medicis,
as they tried to hunt him down.
This had its advantages.
Michelangelo could spy on their movements
and, finally, make his escape.
How did he get out? Where did he go?
From the stairs, from the church,
and from the palace
that we can see together.
We can follow the escape route of Michelangelo.
-Does it involve going down there?
You've done too many programmes with us!
-On you go.
It's just extraordinary.
Michelangelo had a friend who provided a safe house nearby.
After years of working at the church,
he knew all the secret passageways to avoid detection.
It's tempting to linger and admire the church,
but, with the Medici after him,
I don't think Michelangelo would have hung around.
This is the way.
Are we still within the San Lorenzo complex?
Yes, yes, yes, yes.
So, this is where Michelangelo would have crept out?
-Knowing that one false move
and he might have been captured by the Medicis.
Is this now the house of his friend?
Yes, we are entering the house.
'The secret passage takes us through a doorway
'that leads directly into the friend's courtyard.'
And he's reached safety now?
Oh, we're safe!
-Yes, we are safe.
-We've made it.
An incredibly confusing route, though, isn't it?
We've come from an underground hole...
We've run through a church.
We've been through a cloister,
we've been out into a street,
round a corner, to the house.
I've no idea, though, where the church is, in relation to here,
-or which direction...
-This is like a labirinto.
We're not in Florence any more, you know that, don't you?
-We've made it to Rome already.
Our 3-D model of invisible Florence is taking shape.
It's fantastic to see how we can move from San Lorenzo
and the cell where Michelangelo hid,
onto the Palazzo Medici
and all the way back to the Duomo.
The House of Medici had built so much of Florence...
..but the best was yet to come.
The Medici returned in 1530.
They used armed force to retake the city,
and they'd do whatever it took to keep it.
First, they dealt with the rebels.
With Michelangelo, they struck a deal.
The artist agreed to finish their chapel,
and all was forgiven.
Michael has brought me to the new Medici HQ -
Palazzo Vecchio in Florence's main square.
We shouldn't get any ideas that the Medicis,
when they returned to power in Florence,
-are nicey-nicey with everyone...
-..in their approach.
They come back in full force.
They're not pulling strings of power, they ARE power,
and there's no better symbol of that than the town hall of Florence -
that's been standing here since the 13th century -
is taken over by the Medicis as their seat of government.
The gloves are off, they're in charge.
They are Florence.
They take over this as their seat of government and then they decide,
"Do you know what? We need administrative offices
"to be able rule appropriately."
And they're right behind.
It's the Uffizi.
The Uffizi is no longer the city's offices,
but a world-class art gallery.
-Well, I'll see you later.
-See you in a bit.
While Michael investigates the invisible side of Palazzo Vecchio,
I'm going to take in some high art.
I'll tell you what this is like.
It's like, if you can imagine going to party
and just coming face-to-face
with some the greatest figures from world history.
There they are. Look at the company I'm keeping here.
I've just walked into the Botticelli Room,
here is The Birth of Venus,
probably one of the most famous paintings ever!
Over there is La Primavera,
the three Graces surrounded by spring.
It's just me. It's just me and them.
These were both commissioned by members of the Medici family...
..but you get a sense of, of...
..having come to the birthplace of great art.
It sort of shouts down from the walls of this wonderful museum.
The Uffizi was built by the latest Cosimo Medici,
Duke Cosimo I of Florence,
and if you couldn't find him in his offices,
he may have been at the Palazzo Vecchio next door.
I wonder if Michael's found a way in yet.
Around the back of the Palazzo Vecchio
is a secret side door entrance,
called the Duke of Athens' Door,
and here it is.
Named after a ruler who was thrust upon the people of Florence
in the mid 14th century.
So unpopular that he decided to build himself an escape route,
and, indeed, so unpopular, it's said,
that he was chucked out of Florence before he had a chance to finish it.
Now, in the 16th century,
when the Medicis were ruling Florence from this palace,
I'm sure they would have loved an entrance and exit like this.
By now, the Medici were the public face of Florence,
but old habits die hard.
Hidden away inside are rooms showing that the Medici's love of secrecy
was stronger than ever.
This secret, hidden, little bank vault-like room
was Cosimo's personal man cave.
Only he had a key to this strange place,
and it's where he kept his personal documents
and treasured possessions, in these cupboards.
This room was totally forgotten about from the 18th century onwards
and only rediscovered at the beginning of the 20th century.
I hope it doesn't take me that long to get out of here.
Even with the help of our scans,
it's hard to find a route through this place.
At its centre is the great Hall of Five Hundred,
Florence's own Houses of Parliament.
Behind it lies a labyrinth of rooms, corridors and staircases.
All these rooms and passageways,
they reek of secrecy, intrigue
and of a family who preferred to rule from the shadows.
But the Medicis weren't able just to scurry around
in particular buildings in secrecy -
they could get across the whole city that way.
I'm off to join Xander, to see if we can pick up the trail.
Michael's got to mix with the masses to get to me.
But the Medicis made sure they never had to mingle with the hoi polloi.
We're going to explore exactly how they controlled the city
without ever needing to put a foot outside.
Ah, Michael, how are you?
Of all the corners of this wonderful museum!
I've been hanging with Julius Caesar and Hercules, waiting for you.
-How are you?
Now, why have you brought me to this corner?
Well, I hope you've been enjoying something of the wonderful art here,
but, frankly, we're not interested in art right now.
We're interested in one of the secrets of the Uffizi
and that's a corridor, the ultimate corridors of power
that links to the Palazzo Vecchio, the heart of government,
through the Uffizi, once the administrative offices,
and on to the Medici's private villa and palace, in fact,
on the south side of the river.
All the way to the south side of the river, that's a long corridor.
What godlike power to move right through this city
and to see, but not be seen.
It's known as the Vasari Corridor, after the man who designed it.
From the outside, you would never know it was here,
as it winds its way above the crowded streets of Florence.
Luca's walking its length with his backpack scanner
to give us a perspective that even the all-seeing Medici
could only dream of.
What's the point of this? Why was it so urgently required?
Well, the official reason was that Cosimo's son, Francesco,
was getting married and they needed a secure and quick passageway
-for the bride and groom on the wedding day...
..to avoid getting the wedding dress mucky on the streets.
-But that's the official line.
-I mean, behind that is a much bigger story.
Don't forget, their own family had been riddled with intrigues.
Alessandro de' Medici is killed in his bed, by his cousin,
having been discovered in bed with the cousin's wife.
That's a great story right there!
-Killed by his own cousin...
-..for sleeping with his cousin's wife.
But this is, kind of, part and parcel
of the dynastic, despotic families of the period.
-Now, Cosimo, as any ruler,
with such power and with such history behind him,
you can imagine he is constantly looking over his shoulder.
The very fact that they decide
that a permanent, secure corridor is needed...
Tells you everything you need to know.
..tells you everything you need to know
about how the Medicis understood their position in Florence.
This secret passageway
even passes over Florence's oldest bridge
and you would never know.
Well, this is a wonderfully elevated and rarefied view of Florence.
Here we are on the Ponte Vecchio.
I wonder how many people,
of the millions who must cross this every year,
I wonder how many look up and have any idea
of what happens upstairs at the Ponte Vecchio.
This was in everyday use.
I mean, it wasn't just kept for dire emergencies.
No, no, no, no. Roll out of bed in the morning and get...
Not walk this, get into your little carriage.
It's built wide enough for a carriage
to, sort of, take you down to your office for a day's work
-and then back home again.
-I'm worried about two things.
The exercise he's not getting
and the vitamin D he's not getting.
He's going to get rickets.
I think he was also more worried, probably,
about getting stabbed in the back or something like that.
I'm beginning to think of it as an invisibility cloak,
but one made out of bricks and mortar.
So, Cosimo merely needed a pair of roller-skates, at this point,
so he could just be pushed down into his residence.
It was an easy ride back at the end of the day towards the residence,
and that's where we're heading now.
We're heading towards the Pitti Palace.
After a kilometre of corridor,
the secret passage emerges
into the gardens of the glorious Palazzo Pitti...
And this will give you a good view.
..the place the Medici now called home.
It's just massive. That's a fortress, isn't it?
I mean, there's no mistaking that. That's just impregnable.
From the top of the gardens,
Cosimo could look down on the city
his family had done so much to shape.
The Vasari Corridor has brought us
from the heart of Florence to the edge of the city.
When you're on the inside,
you can't see how it all relates to the world outside,
but virtual reality is going to change all that.
-In we go.
Here begins the Vasari Corridor.
All the way down here,
sharp turn here.
-Over the eye.
To see it like this,
where you can actually start to put it all together,
how, particularly south of the Arno,
it finds its way circuitously around all those properties.
And actually, one of the lovely things about operating at this scale
is that I can just take a, kind of, casual walk over here,
just disappear out through that window and levitate.
Join me outside over here. It's quite a scary feeling,
just taking that step out of the corridor.
-Come on, Xander. Join me out here.
Whoa! Look at that.
Floating above the Ponte Vecchio.
Ooh, ice creams over there. Mmm!
But the funny thing is, having been in the Uffizi,
having been along the Vasari Corridor,
you never get this...
..sense of where it is, you know, how it all connects.
It does, sort of, give you an illusion
of Medici, kind of, power, doesn't it?
Looking over, having Florence as your plaything, like this.
'I feel I've really got to know the Medici.
'I've walked in their footsteps, drunk wine with their rivals
'and been awed by their churches.'
I mean, my word!
'So I suppose my last question is...'
What became of the Medici?
Well, they continued to have power until the 18th century,
but then their line ended.
There were no Medici heirs.
So this family that had had so many enemies,
trying to bring them down over the centuries,
finally is just brought down...
completely by nature.
But the last Medici donated the entire Medici art collection,
all their personal possessions to the city of Florence.
With the proviso that, in her words,
that it should remain in the city for the benefit of its citizens
and for the inducement of visitors.
That's wonderful. I mean, that is a bequest beyond...
beyond measurable value.
And now, I feel privileged
to see something that even the Medici could never see.
Our scans have come together
to form the most extensive 3-D model
of Medici Florence ever made.
And for me, the scans really show that Florence
is one big sleight of hand.
It looks so light, so ethereal -
but just below it is all that intrigue, all that rivalry.
From the hidden passageways and secret routes
through some of Florence's famous buildings...
..to the labyrinth of structures and supports
that hold up Brunelleschi's magical dome.
Now, when I look at Florence, I see violent competition,
secret corridors of power and creative brilliance.
All of this put Florence on the map
and made it the engine room of the Renaissance
that shapes our world to this day.
If you'd like to explore Florence in 3-D yourself,
go to BBC.co.uk/InvisibleItaly
and follow the link.
Documentary series. Using the latest 3D scanning technology, Alexander Armstrong and Dr Michael Scott explore the romantic city of Florence.
They reveal how its wonderful facades and artworks mask a hidden story of intrigue and secrecy, and one powerful dynasty was behind it all - the Medicis, godfathers of the Renaissance. Finally, the scanning team build a virtual reality 3D model to reveal how the city's secret corridors of power were the foundation of the city's Renaissance glory.