Ken is exploring the amazing city of Florence, Italy, and he has some pretty incredible scientific things to share with us today! If you are a fan of Galileo, you are definitely going to want to read this, and you’re probably going to want to plan your own trip to Florence to experience the story of the birth of modern astronomy. Enjoy this incredible tour…

Bibliotheque Nationale-Firenze

Visiting the city of Florence for almost exactly 24 hours! We checked our bags in at the hotel, and were whisked off in a taxi to the Bibliotheque Nationale-Firenze. Once inside we were accompanied by several librarians, as we entered the holy of holies: the rare manuscript room. The following are things you just have to see to believe.

The Big Brown Door Reads, “Manuscritti E rari,” or “Rare Manuscripts.”

Seven of Galileo’s manuscripts were provided for examination by the head of the manuscript collection.

Yes! We are looking at an original copy of Galileo’s Siderius Nuncius!
I was lucky enough to see some of the pages including Galileo’s Jupiter observations as well as the data chart summarizing the observations:

Some of the manuscripts are written on by other scholars who read Galileo, and apparently, weren’t always impressed!

We tend to take Galileo for a genius today, but imagine coming up with an entirely new scientific concept, particularly 400 years ago when many modern scientific concepts were unknown. Do you think your colleagues would accept your ideas easily? Probably not.

Look in the fourth paragraph of the handwritten notes in the left margin. This writing begins with “Nuge! Nuge! Nuge! …”. I’ll allow my gentle readers to infer what “nuge” might be in Latin…Not everyone agreed with Galileo in the 17th century!

Planetario Firenze

Next, it was off to the Planetario Firenze, and Ruggerio, the planetarium director, was a most amicable host.

Local sponsor of the Firenze Planetario: Rotary!

Local sponsor of the Firenze Planetario: Rotary!

Ruggero at the controls

Planetario Firenze

Of course, we saw as much of Florence as one might expect in a few short hours, but we made the best of it!
Perhaps the most iconic Florentine architecture – the Duomo, which is the third largest church in the world:

The Ponte Vecchio, meaning the old bridge, was the only bridge across the Arno River in Florence until 1218. It had to be rebuilt after a flood in 1345, but shops have been selling their wares on it for hundreds of years.

Of course, Florence is also known for iconic artwork. This is a replica of Michelangelo’s David, outside the Accademia Gallery, where the real statue waits behind a 90 minute line, but that’s not for me today. I have some other things in mind…

It’s worth noting that there is art everywhere (a recurring theme here in Italia), including this statue of Perseus slaying Medusa:

That evening, it was dinner and another hike up a steep hill, to visit Galileo’s house, but the next morning…the Galileo Museum!

Behind me in this photo is the middle finger of Galileo’s right hand! Yes, this is strange, but no this was not a vulgar gesture! All throughout history famous people’s body parts have been stolen and held as relics to revere throughout time. Sounds weird? It does today, but it wasn’t weird in the past. It was a way for the public to connect with their heroes.

Here Galileo’s pointer finger is being used to show us which way to look. The inscription reads: “This is the finger, belonging to the illustrious hand that ran through the skies pointing at the immense spaces, and singling out new stars, offering to the senses a marvelous apparatus of crafted glass, and with wise daring they could reach where neither Enceladus nor Tiphaeus ever reached.”

The inclined planes Galileo used to determine that acceleration due to gravity is a constant.

Of course, Galileo’s instruments preserved here also include his original telescope.

An orrery, produced after the discovery of Uranus in 1781.

The bust of Science’s GOAT: Galileo Galilee

Next blog post: The towns of Ravenna, Brescia, and Rovigo.


Ken Brandt directs the Robeson Planetarium and Science Center in Lumberton, NC.  He is a volunteer in NASA’s Solar System Ambassador Program. He is also a member of the 3rd cohort of NC Space Grant Ambassadors, and an Ambassador for the Mars Society.