A MUST FOR globe-trotting fans of science history, the Museo Galileo, in the beautiful Italian city of Florence, is the only place on Earth where you can see not only some of the instruments used by Galileo Galilei, but also actual bits of the man himself.
The museum, contained in the Palazzo Castellani, an eleventh century building on the banks of the Arno river, contains the thumb, index and middle finger of his right hand.
And while that may seem slightly gruesome, the sight of the digits definitely adds an extra layer of fascination to a couple of the other exhibits – namely, the only two surviving examples of his telescopes, and the framed lens from another. Using this last, in January 1610, he discovered the four largest satellites of Jupiter – Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. To this day, they are still known as the Galilean moons.
Across two floors, the museum also holds perhaps the world’s largest collection of historical scientific instruments, including many ornately decorated terrestrial and celestial globes, early thermometers, wax anatomical models and gorgeous wooden and brass machines designed to test and demonstrate the properties of electromagnetism.
There are 18 rooms in all in the building, one of which is dominated by a massive and complex armillary sphere, the largest of its type in the world. It was designed by Italian astronomer Antonio Santucci in 1593, and portrays a ‘universal machine’ illustrating the concepts of Aristotle.
The museum costs only nine euros to visit, and features organised activities for children and guided tours for adults – although the ability to speak Italian is necessary to extract maximum value from these.
There has been a museum inside the Palazzo Castellani since the 1930s. However, it closed in 2008 for major renovations. Renamed after Galileo, it opened again in 2010 – to mark the 400th anniversary of the great polymath’s booklet, Sidereus Nuncius ( The Starry Messenger), one of the key documents in modern science.
For more information, visit: www.museogalileo.it/en