Florence‘s “La Specola” Museo Zoologico is the largest of its kind in Italy. The highlight is a somewhat lugubrious collection of wax models of human bodies on which section has been carried out. In the last room you can see what the dreaded plague in a medieval city could do.
Specola Zoology Museum Florence
Opening hours, Entrance fees and Address
The address of the Specola Zoology Museum is Via Romana, 17 – 50125 Florence (tel. +39 0552755100). Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday: 10.30 to 17.30 (from 31 October to 31 May it closes an hour earlier). Closed on Mondays. 1 January, Easter, 1 May, 15 August, 25 December closed. Entrance fee: 6 Euro. Children between 6 and 14 years old and 65+: 3 Euro. Children under 6: free of charge.
The Specola Museum was founded in 1775. It is the oldest scientific museum in Europe and was founded by the Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo di Lorena. The Grand Duke wanted the collections of the Medici family and of the Palazzo Pitti to be arranged in a more logical way.
The name “La Specola” comes from the old observatory after which it is named.
Specola Zoology Museum Florence Highlights
Stuffed animals and birds, insects and crustaceans, all in large old-fashioned cabinets of wood and glass. Although the museum’s collection is huge (3.5 million specimens, more than half of which are insects), there are only 5000 different species on display.
The animals are shown in a reconstruction of their natural environment. A highlight is the hippo that used to live in the Boboli Garden in the time of Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo. Some of these species have unfortunately died out or are about to become extinct.
Grandstand of Galileo
After the death of Galileo Galilei (1462), his astronomical tools were collected by Cardinal Leopoldo de’ Medici. These were also originally exhibited in La Specola. In 1841, Grand Duke Leopold II had a monumental hall (the Tribuna di Galileo) made especially for these instruments. Later they were transferred to the Science History Museum at the Uffizi.
The hall was designed by the architect Giuseppe Martelli. Although the instruments have been removed, there is still a statue of the scientist. The sculptor was Aristodemo Costoli.
The frescoes were painted by Giuseppe Strongezzuoli, Nicola Cianfanelli and Luigi Sabatelli.
The last 10 rooms of the museum contain 600 life-size wax models of human bodies. These were largely made by Clemente Susini between 1775 and 1814 for medical students. They were commissioned by the first director of the museum, Felice Fontana. There are models with cut-up bellies and others that have been skinned, in short, it all looks rather lugubrious. This section was closed in 1895 and reopened in 1947.
The very last room is the most striking one of all. Here you can see three tableaux made in the 17th century. The wax groups were made by Gaetano Zumbo for Cosimo III and show Florence in the grip of the plague. The dead are lying in a heap with the rotting flesh clearly visible and everywhere you can see rats.