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Museo della Specola, situated on Via Romana not far from the Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens, opened to the public in 1775 and is one of the oldest of the great European scientific museums.

aironiThe Museum conserves over three and a half million animals, of which 5000 are on public view, has the greatest collection of anatomical wax models in the world and an enormous number of osteological findings. It consists of thirty-four exhibition rooms and it often hosts temporary shows.
The Osteological Collection, one of the most important in Italy, can be visited by advance reservation in the Skeleton Room on the ground floor.
Going upstairs to the first floor, visitors are faced with the majestic and stunning vision of the Tribuna di Galileo, a 17th century laic temple dedicated to the scientist Galileo Galilei and a rare example of neoclassical architecture, and are surrounded by frescoes and bas-reliefs representing his instruments and his discoveries.

It was built and inaugurated in 1841 to celebrate the great man of letters, experimental science and to create dignified surroundings for the famous objects that had belonged to Galileo and his followers, such as the geometrical and military compass, an armoured magnet, two telescopes and the lens of the telescope with which he discovered the satellites of Jupiter. Renaissance instruments and those of the Accademia del Cimento were placed in special cases. Today, all the objects are conserved in the Museo Galileo in Florence. The statue of Galileo stands at the centre of the apse, where the frescoed niches depict episodes of the great scientist’s discoveries and the busts of his most famous pupils.

The geological collections and the anatomical wax models are one story up: the Zoological Collection on the second story develops in a series of rooms from the most primitive invertebrates to the most highly evolved mammals. The extraordinary Collection of anatomical wax models, about 1400 pieces fashioned between end 18th century and start of the 19th with the purpose of obtaining a scientific and didactical tool that would illustrate the anatomy of the human body without having to resort to direct observation of cadavers, is shown on the same floor.

The spectacular Venus is famous for its touching beauty and because it was conceived as a model with removable pieces. The Museum also owns what remains of the famous wax model-maker from Sicily of the 17th century, Gaetano Giulio Zumbo, who worked for Grand Duke Cosimo III de’ Medici in Florence from 1691 to 1694. These are three small representations, known as the ‘plague waxes’, of great artistic value, in addition to their anatomical value, in which the typical taste for the macabre of some 17th century artists transpires.
Finally, the Torrino, which soars 40 metres above the 17th century palace, offers a spectacular view of the city. It was designed at end 18th century and served as an astronomical observatory. Composed of several rooms, it has its fulcrum in the Sala della Meridiana, where the passages of celestial bodies were observed. In the octagonal Sala Superiore with eight great windows, 360° observations of the night skies were made. At that time, telescopes were pointed in all directions to observe the sky, including the special conic telescope designed by the astronomer who discovered various comets, Giovan Battista Donati. The same instrument was used for the first observations of star emission spectrums. Il Torrino also hosts a selection of objects from the Medici collections, including finely worked precious artefacts such as cups, vases, ornaments and ethnographic objects. There are also splendid full scale wax models of plants and flowers, some leaves from the Erbario Centrale and Cesalpino and two pictures painted by Bartolomeo Bimbi.

Museo della Specola is part of the Museum of Natural History of the University of Florence, and today is organized in eight sections distributed in different parts of the city of Florence: Anthropology and Ethnology, Biomedicine, Botany, Chemistry, Geology and Palaeontology, Mineralogy and Lithology, Botanical Gardens, and Zoology. All the collections are actively studied, conserved and appreciated to hand on the extraordinary patrimony of scientific and historical knowledge that represents the true value of a museum institute.

 Foto credits: Saulo Bambi (MSN - Sez. di Zoologia La Specola)

Published: 24/2/2017

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