In Florence, just a few steps away from the Uffizi Gallery, there sits one of the most wonderful museums I’ve ever been in – Museo Galileo, formerly known as the Museum of the History of Science, housing one of the world’s largest collections of scientific instruments of astonishing beauty. I don’t know about now, but when I visited there, some ridiculous amount of years ago, it was pretty much empty. The crowds of day-tourists bypassed it completely on their set route across Ponte Vecchio, by the Uffizi Gallery, through Piazza della Signoria and then further on towards Duomo. I didn’t know about it either, I just sort of happened across it and, on a whim, decided to go in. Initially there were a few curious souls wandering around but as the hours passed and the closing time drew near, the only people who remained were me, completely engrossed in the exhibits and reluctant to leave, and a couple of the museum’s staff members.
I ended up chatting with one of them, a youngish lad with very good English. He seemed a bit taken with my enthusiastic enquiries, plus I was an 18 year old girl with pretty blue eyes, talking to him about astrolabes and antique globes, he didn’t stand a chance. Long story short, after the closing time, I got to see the museum back rooms, some of the things that didn’t make it to the exhibition rooms and for a few moments I held a stunning 16th century compass in my hands. It was a small ornamented thing, I saw a few ones like it in the museum, but this one I got to touch, got to feel its weight amplified by the centuries it held within itself. It’s easily the most precious thing I’ve ever handled and as I cupped my hands around it, gently, like I was holding a small fragile bird, I was close to tears, not mentioning supremely tempted to just leg it out of the place and keep it (hey, I didn’t ok, you can’t blame me for thinking it though).
You may be wondering “what’s so special about some old scientific instruments, I have no interest in that sort of stuff at all?” Well, neither did I to be honest. As I said, I went in on a whim. But honestly, if you’re ever in Florence, just go. Just look around, spend some time, I promise you, you won’t regret it. It’s a charmed world of gold and brass sextants, astrolabes, globes, strange vials, clocks, armillary spheres, thermometers and strange contraptions, all of them beautiful to just look at, even if you’ve no idea what they were used for, works of art. Feel yourself go back for a moment to a different time, when the world was even more of a mystery, and feel, embodied in the exquisite instruments around you, the hope, the will, the endeavor of the brilliant humans from another era. It’s a hopeful and uplifting sort of a place.