Christmas in Italy – The Galileo museum

Christmas in Italy – The Galileo museum

In keeping with the tradition of adventure, Sarah and I went on a big trip for Christmas and New Years!

This year, we met up with Sarah’s family in Italy, traveling to Rome and Florence; not quite a perfect midpoint for everyone, but it was close enough. And, also, you know. Rome. Florence. Amazing!

Please forgive me for some of these being a bit out of order… the posts are organized somewhat chronologically… but also organized by theme and location.  Some may not be exactly in chronological order, so for reference please see the initial summary post, which has a complete day-by-day, blow-by-blow account of the adventure.



Wednesday, 03-Jan-2018

While we were preparing for this trip, I poked around a bit online for places in Florence to look at. I knew that it was the home of the renaissance, and that countless groundbreaking discoveries were made here. In trying to narrow down the scope of what to look at, I came up with two – Leonardo DaVinci, and Galileo Galilei.


The Leonardo DaVinci museum, we accidentally stumbled into on our adventures earlier in the week. But the Galileo museum was a targeted adventure… partially because the week was ending, and partially because it was literally directly across the street from our apartment. Convenient, right?

I’ll be honest though – by the time we made it to the museum, I was pretty well saturated. This was our last day in Florence, and we’d been bouncing all over the place getting in a few last adventures before the end of the day. We’d seen so many beautiful places and views that I was struggling to keep focus and stay sane & aware.

With that in mind, this museum was still amazing.

Obviously, there were telescopes, but there was also so much more. The term “renaissance man” truly applies to Galileo; there were experimental items of his concerning electricity, magnetism, medicine, and of course astronomy. There was a massive amount of information about everything, and an honestly staggering number of masterly crafted showcase devices.

It was a really neat concept, honestly – these ornate machines designed purely to demonstrate a single scientific principle, such as induced magnetism or acceleration, or rotational acceleration. I’ll be honest… I think that if science classes used these machines in their demos, we’d have a radically different society. But these weren’t used in classrooms, we learned that they were used to demonstrate research to the nobles and elites of the city, who were funding the scientists doing the work. An interesting deliverable, to be sure.

The nobles would then throw “Science Salons” for all their friends, demonstrating whichever new principle had been discovered recently. It’s kind of neat to imagine, a whole group of victorian movers and shakers, all being astounded by the sort of electric displays that I grew up with in the Museum of Science, back in Boston.

Not all of the displays were purely conceptual though. Some were downright creepy, though undeniably necessary to modern medicine. We saw an entire room full of anatomical sculptures describing pregnancy, its possible complications, and how the doctors and midwives would treat those complications. Very interesting… but the way that they were sculpted definitely went over the line between anatomical and creepy.

And of course, there were telescopes. Galileo didn’t just have his one telescope, of course, but there was one room with dozens of telescopes used by countless astronomers. They were gorgeous, just as ornate as the demonstration machines, but obviously well worn from use. Some were the small hand-held ones that you think of when you picture Galileo, but there were also huge free-standing telescopes more reminiscent of modern observatories.

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