The 45 rooms of the Uffizi Gallery cover an area of approximately 8,000 sq. meters. The Gallery owns 4,800 of the most important works of art in the world. The collection includes paintings on canvas and wood by 13th to 18th century Italian and European artists, classical sculpture, tapestries, furniture and ceramics. The Gallery of the Uffizi was the first museum ever to be opened to the public: in 1591 the Grand Duke granted permission to visit the Uffizi Gallery on request. Its four centuries of history make the Uffizi Gallery the oldest museum in the world.
Cosimo I de' Medici commissioned Giorgio Vasari in 1560 to build the Uffizi. (the structure was completed by Bernardo Buontalenti after Vasari's death in 1574). In 1581 the building was terminated. This famous gallery, was designed to house the administrative offices (or "uffizi") of the Florentine government because Palazzo Vecchio, which also overlooks Piazza della Signoria, had become too small. It was, however, Cosimo's son Francesco I, who was responsible for starting to turn the Uffizi Gallery into a museum in 1581, when he closed the second floor, and arranged part of the grand-ducal collection of classical statues, medals, jewelry, weapons, paintings and scientific instruments there.
The Medicis were avid collectors. Some of the most important elements to be added to the collection came from the inheritance left by Ferdinando II's mother, Vittoria della Rovere in 1631. These works together with those acquired by Cardinal Leopoldo dé Medici (1617-1675), created the foundation for "the Gallery of Prints and Drawings" (located on the first floor of the Uffizi, on the site of the old Court Theatre built by Bernardo Buontalenti) and "the Collection of Self-portraits", exhibited today in the Vasari Corridor, that links the Uffizi Gallery to the Pitti Palace.
In 1737 when Gian Gastone, the last Medici Grand Duke, died, his sister Anna Maria Ludovica prevented the artistic patrimony from being scattered with the famous "Family Pact" (reconfirmed in her will of 1743) which, instead of bequeathing the estate to the successors of the House of Hapsburg-Lorraines, donated the collection to the city of Florence "to be an ornament to the Government, useful to the public and to attract the curiosity of foreigners". This document proved to be vitally important in retrieving the art works that were removed and taken to Paris in Napoleonic times.