New CIEE Florence Center: A Florentine Renaissance Palazzo

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Arts, Architecture and Design

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College Study Abroad

In the cradle of the Renaissance, CIEE Florence has recently opened its doors to a new study abroad center in the breathtaking Palazzo Guadagni, a historically significant building widely renowned as one of the best examples of a Florentine Renaissance palace. The study center marries historical grandeur with contemporary academic excellence, a unique pairing that is certain to become a student favorite!

While new to CIEE, Palazzo Guadagni has a storied past.


Also known as Palazzo Dei and Palazzo Dufour Berte, Palazzo Guadagni dates back to 1502 when merchant Ranieri di Baldassarre Dei wanted a commanding building for his family. Originally, the façade of the palace was adorned with the family’s coat of arms. Florentine painter Andrea del Sarto used a technique known as sgraffito (scratching black plaster to create white artwork; a typical Florentine decoration) to create the design. Unfortunately, being exposed to the elements over time led to the artwork becoming severely damaged and it was later transferred into the palace's interior.


Over the years, Palazzo Guadagni changed hands twice: Once when it was purchased by Marquis Guadagni in 1683, and again in 1837 when it was sold to the Dufour Berte family, another significant Florentine family who maintained the building’s original name.  

1912-Present Day 

Under the ownership of the Dufour Berte family, Palazzo Guadagni served various purposes. From 1912 to 1964, its first floor was the temporary home of the German Institute for Art History in Florence. In 1914, Palazzo Guadagni’s ground floor was inaugurated as Florence’s first municipal library, with a special dedication to Pietro Thouar, a notable Florentine literate and pedagogist. Today, the library still exists (though it has changed sites) and features more than 20,000 titles!


In 2024, the Dufour Berte family signed an agreement with CIEE, welcoming the nonprofit educational exchange organization to use Palazzo Guadagni as its study abroad center in Florence. In addition to using Palazzo Guadagni as a space to hold classes for CIEE students and house offices for CIEE staff members, CIEE plans to restore Thouar’s spirit in the building and local community by hosting workshops and seminars for students and neighbors to attend. These events will be invaluable interactive opportunities to bring people together and celebrate Thouar as an important intellect, writer, and educator who was passionate about teaching young people ethical lessons on topics like honesty, diligence, and respect for others. Thouar’s connection to Palazzo Guadagni and strong values for the comprehensive and accessible education of young people will live on under CIEE’s leadership.  

Introducing the New CIEE Florence 

CIEE officially moved into Palazzo Guadagni in May 2024, with CIEE Florence staff members entering the building on May 7 and the center’s first cohort of students arriving on May 13. “In a sprint to open before our first summer arrival, we were assisted by many local services to make sure everything was in perfect working order, clean, and clutter-free for our students,” said Tina Rocchio, Center Director of CIEE Florence. “While home improvements will be on-going, we are a functioning unit already and finding it very comfy. The palace itself is just a remarkable place that winds from room to room. The windows on the square are so big, it takes two of us to open and shut them each day!”  

Like all traditional Florentine Renaissance palaces, the rooms of Palazzo Guadagni feature high vaulted ceilings with remarkable frescoes. Off the ground floor cortile there are two wings, one with a beautiful classroom named after Florentine writer and artist, Artemisia. Because of Artemisia, a modern-day symbol of women’s rights, the CIEE Florence team has decided to name each of the other rooms after Italian women who have made significant artistic, scientific, and political contributions to Italian society. One of the rooms inaugurated this summer will be christened Maria Montessori in honor of her notable life as an Italian physician, educator, and innovator.  

Up the noble staircase, beyond the reception area, the palace boasts student lounges, a library, an aula magna, and several additional classrooms. An added delight of Palazzo Guadagni is the loggia on the top floor, offering a glimpse into the building’s historic architectural charm. Run by the hotel of the same name, it is a popular place for tea and cocktails with a view!

As if the palace’s remarkable scenery is not tempting enough, Palazzo Guadagni is also nestled in the vibrant and lively square of Piazza Santo Spirito, a short walk from Florence’s famous medieval Ponte Vecchio. Students are sure to enjoy the market stalls that pepper the piazza each morning, selling vintage fashions, antiques, farm-fresh vegetables, cheeses, and other delicacies. By lunch and dinnertime, the nearby cafés and restaurants come to life, bustling with locals and tourists alike. At the end of the day, people tend to linger and sit on The Basilica di Santo Spirito’s church steps, talking, laughing, and singing songs, making Piazza Santo Spirito a joyous place to be.

"For me, it can be summarized in one word: Authenticity. Piazza Santo Spirito is one advantage of becoming part of a real Florentine community, rather than living in the chaos of the other side of the Arno,” said Daniele Bini, Program Manager of CIEE Florence, runner, performing artist, and native Florentine. “We’re surrounded by local fornai, pastry shops, craftmanship, and proud Florentines still living in the area. Il Palazzo, for me, is a beautiful place to be with so much history; you can feel it and breathe it. I really hope the architects will not change it much. It feels like you’re walking the hallways of the Dufour-Berte family. It’s just powerful to realize that we’re hosts of so much lived life."

Students who choose to study abroad with CIEE in Florence will quickly become inspired by the history and art of Palazzo Guadagni paired with the liveliness and authenticity of the Piazza Santo Spirito neighborhood, discovering for themselves just how special of a place this is to make their classroom abroad.

“When I first started looking for a place to call our home, I knew I wanted it to be somewhere that would reinforce our mission to connect our students with the real Florence,” Center Director Tina Rocchio shared. “Where residents have been living for generations, where markets come through every day, where majestic churches can be freely visited without reservations or interminable lines. Piazza Santo Spirito was just the place. Still very much the city’s center but with a local vibe. Students will rejoice in the freedom to roam without masses of tourists at their door.”

Students interested in taking their studies to Florence, Italy can learn more about the many unique programs CIEE offers in the birthplace of the Renaissance. From studying Art, Architecture & Design to interning abroad for the summer, there are plenty of ways students can make Florence, and now Palazzo Guadagni, their beloved home away from home.


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