Musée Galilée

Galileo Museum

Located in Palazzo Castellani, one of the oldest buildings in the city, the Galileo Museum brings together all kinds of scientific tools and instruments from the Renaissance to the twentieth century.

About the Museum

The Galileo Museum occupies the 3 floors of Palazzo Castellani, located in Piazza dei Giudici. Founded in 1930 by an initiative of the University of Florence, the museum has become the largest scientific museum in Italy and has a rich collection of mathematical, optical, astronomical, surgical or navigational artifacts. The oldest objects come from the Medici and Lorraine families. The place is divided into 18 rooms with a total of 1300 objects on display, among which the most important of them are two telescopes and the eyepieces used by Galileo in 1609 to discover the lunar mountains and the satellites of Jupiter.

What can we discover at the museum?

The place is filled with important scientific materials on display, used in the past, but some of the most remarkable are: the mercury barometer, invented in 1634, and the Galileo telescope, already mentioned. In addition, you can also see a small collection of pocket watches with units dating back to the end of the 14th century and the four globes of the famous Venetian cosmographer Vicenso Maria Coronelli: they have a diameter between 50 centimeters and one meter and show the world as it was known at the time. In addition to the telescopes and the instruments used for the great discoveries, what attracts attention is an ovoid glass inside which is Galileo’s middle finger, separated from his body in 1737 when his remains were transferred to the family crypt.

Room 1

Medici collections for many years, the Medici family, patrons of art and science, they formed an exquisite collection of scientific instruments , which were kept for about two centuries in the Uffizi Gallery next to masterpieces of ancient and modern art. The collection, started by the founder of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany Cosimo the first Medici (1519-1574), has been enriched by his successors. Francesco the first (1541-1587) was mainly interested in the collections of natural history and alchemy, and Ferdinando the first (1549-1609), who acquired a large number of mathematical, nautical and cosmographic instruments. Comsimo ii (1590-1621) had the sole privilege of adding Galileo’s original instruments to the collection, geometric and military compasses and telescopes.

Room 2

Astronomy and time Since ancient times, the human race has been fascinated by time, considering it both a philosophical and a natural question. Without being able to explain exactly what time is, astronomy has always devoted itself to defining its modules (years, months, days and hours), based on the observation of celestial phenomena, developing precise instruments to measure time. There were two main reasons for this kind of need to measure and organize time: first, the establishment of the calendar to regulate the exact days of celebration of religious and political holidays, and then the prediction of the position of the stars and planets in order to formulate astrological predictions.

Room 3

The representation of the world the cultural value of cosmography in Tuscany is demonstrated by the enthusiastic reception of Ptolemy’s geography, one of the fundamental texts of modern geographical studies rediscovered in Florence in the fourteenth century. The ambitious plan of the new cloakroom of the Palazzo Vecchio was conceived by Cosimo de’ Medici as a grandiose theatrum mundi, as well as as an attempt to assimilate and modernize Ptolemy’s geography. This conception was then illustrated in the Ufizzi Gallery by Ferdinando I (1549-1609), who designed a cosmographic room containing representations of the Medici fields and an excellent Ptolemaic model of the universe, made by the cosmographer Antonio Santucci († 1613). The drawings of Palazzo Vecchio and Ufiizi form a continuous motif as the Sum of the sixteenth-century cosmology to celebrate the power and authority of the Prince.

Room 4

The spheres of Vincenzo Coronelli’s four spheres were made by the Venetian cosmographer Vincenzo Maria Coronelli (1650-1718), famous for the enormous size of his creations, such as the spheres of almost 4 meters in diameter made for Louis XIV, King of France, which are in the Medici collections. The spheres of the Galileo Museum belong to series made by Coroneli at the Cosmographic Academy degli Argonauti founded by him in Venice in 1684. These spheres are of medium and small size, (1 meter, even 50 centimeters in diameter). In 1693, Coroneli described his techniques for making the spheres with the cosmografica Epitome. Written by hand or printed on sheets of paper, called gorres, they were glued into a huge wooden ball, wrapped in paper and finished with gypsum. The 26 sheets of paper exhibited in this room (24 half-spindles and 2 polar blankets) were printed in the 20th century from real copper plates and are kept at the National Library of Paris. These plates were pre-designed for a second edition (Paris 1693), for Coronelli’s celestial globe.

Room 5

The science of navigation having consolidated their power with regard to Tuscany, the Medici turned to the sea, hoping to gain a foothold in ocean navigation and improve trade with the East and West Indies. These ambitions have effectively promoted the development of Marine Sciences and have succeeded in making Livorno in the Grand Duchy a major center of the Mediterranean. It was equipped with arsenals, shipyards, naval schools and workshops, which produced nautical instruments and cartographers.

Room 6

The science of war in 1599, Ferdinand I (1549-1609) moved the mathematical instruments from the Palazzo Vecchio to a room dedicated to military architecture in the Uffizi Gallery. This new exhibition clearly celebrated the science of war, which, with the spread of machine guns, had transformed the battlefield into a spectacle of geometric studies. The mortars forced the transformation of the geometry of the fortress. In addition, a good knowledge of the weight / radius ratio of the shells was now necessary for precise measurement and calculation operations. The generals were obliged to know the basic mathematical principles for the perfect direction of military expeditions. As Galileo said about the nobleman who took his math classes, a soldier must have basic knowledge of arithmetic, geometry, spatial measurement, perspective, engineering and military architecture.

The summer of 1609 marks the beginning of the revolutionary and telescopic exploration of the heavens, which led to the impressive discoveries of Galileo Galilei (1564-1642): the surface of the moon seemed to form trails of mountains and valleys like on Earth. The constellations present a multitude of stars, invisible to the naked eye. Jupiter was surrounded by satellites (the Medici stars as Galileo said). Venus has cyclic phases like that of the moon. The surface of the sun was distorted by dark spots. Saturn, oddly enough, protruded to the sides. These astronomical discoveries heralded a revolution intended to demystify the image of the universe that had prevailed for two thousand years. The profound agitation of this revolution portends a belief in the privileged position of man in the universe, and awakens the violent antagonism that was supposed to claim Galileo as a victim.

Room 8

The Académie del Cimento: the art and science of experimentation was founded in 1657 by Grand Duke Ferdinand II (1610-1670) and Prince Leopold de’ Medici (1617-1675), the Académie del Cimento was the first European Society, exclusively dedicated to science, advanced by the Royal Society Foundation of London (1660) and the Royal Academy of Sciences of Paris (1666). Following in the footsteps of Galileo, Cimento conducted experiments to verify certain principles of ancient natural philosophy, universally accepted on the principle of Aristotle. The Academy completed its work in 1667 with the publication of “essays on natural experiments”, which described some of its activities. Important results have been obtained by the Academy in thermometry, barometry and observation of Saturn. Many experiments have been designed to check the possibility of creating a vacuum and observe the effect on animals and objects. The Cement Academy played an important role in the demolition of the traditional belief that nature abhors a vacuum.

Room 9

then Galilee: exploration of the physical and biological world in the second half of the seventeenth century, meteorology developed rapidly thanks to the increasingly sophisticated creation of instruments for measuring thermometric, barometric and hygrometric values. The systematic use of improved microscopes has yielded important results in the fields of biology and entomology. At the same time, telescopes of larger size and greater optical complexity were being built, leading to new major astronomical discoveries.

Room 10

The Lorraine collections with the death of Gian Gastone de’ Medici (1671-1737), the Habsburg-Loraine family became lords of Tuscany. At the initiative of Grand Duke Pierre Leopold (1747-1792), the scientific collections were reorganized. In 1976, they were transferred from the ufizzi Gallery of Palazzo Torrigiani to the building of the Imperial and Nomadic Museum of Physics and Natural History (the current “La Specola” Museum) inaugurated in 1775. Equipped with workshops and crews, the museum was directed by the scientist Felice Fontana (1730-1805). In the collection of the Medici heritage , over time, devices have been manufactured in the synergies of the museum , such as machines or lathes , various research instruments in Natural Sciences , anatomical wax models, working headbands and expensive instruments imported from abroad. The museum also had an observatory. Its director was the astronomer and binocular Giovanni Battista Amici (1786-1863). In 1841, under the direction of Vincenzo Antinori (1792 – 1865), the most important part of the collection was presented to the Galileo Gallery. The collection grew until 1859, when Grand Duke Leopold II The Last (1797-1870) left Tuscany.

Room 11

the demonstration of science spectacular results were a typical feature of many aspects of eighteenth-century science. The High Society of the time, eager for innovation and entertainment, was fascinated by the phenomena of experimental physics. In salons and courtyards, the laws of nature seem to have been applied by traveling lecturers who learned science through spectacular experimental demonstrations. Using air pumps, planetariums, solar microscopes and machines to study impacts, they offered physics classes that avoided the delicate language of mathematics. Their lectures, often presented as theatrical performances, were real social events. In the eighteenth century, the newly discovered electrostatic machines were used as entertainment during “electric evenings”, where demonstrators organized spectacular performances during which the ladies and gentlemen who were there experimented on their own instruments with the phenomena of electric traction, repulsion, shaking and sparks.

Room 12

Teaching and dissemination of sciences: Engineering in the eighteenth century, the cultural fashion for the presentation of sciences, thanks to impressive experiences among the upper classes, stimulated the demand for new educational instruments. They included simple and complex machine models to demonstrate the practical applications of scientific principles. Educational devices often came from research instruments that had become obsolete. Many instruments are described in the 18th century as unreal, highly intelligent and efficient. They remained in use in scientific social councils with some modifications, until the first decades of the 20th century. The instruments in the Lorraine collection are perfect copies of those described in the treatises of famous scientists and demonstrators of the eighteenth century, such as Willem de Jacob Gravesande (1688-1742) in the Netherlands and Jean-Antoine Nollet (1700-1770) in France.

How to get to the museum

Address: Piazza dei Giudici, 1, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy
Opening hours: Monday to Friday from 9 am to 14 pm.

Closed: only on December 25th and January 1st.
Entrance fee: 14 euros per adult. 6 € (6 to 18 years old)