Padua: the city of science
Padua is the ideal place to trace the history and the achievements of mankind in the fields of science, technology, knowledge, and creativity. Since 1222, when the University of Padua was officially opened, to present day the progress of science and technology and outstanding discoveries were made possible by enlightened and brilliant personalities, in an atmosphere of utmost freedom and cultural liveliness.
It can be defined a true factory of scientific and technological knowledge: besides its prestigious science & health-care centre, a centre of European excellence fully devoted to nanotechnologies has been recently established.
The University of Padua, one of the oldest in the world (and the second in Italy after Bologna) is the true archetype of modern university, and the pivot of the science route in town. Its historical building, the Bo Palace, preserves the oldest anatomy theatre in the world as well as some historical sites and outstanding items, as the 14th-century Medicine Room, the chair of Galileo Galilei - who was a professor in Padua from 1592 to 1618; the Aula Magna (Great Hall), the old Scola Granda dei Legisti and the double, two-tier old cloister by Moroni, both wonderfully decorated with the coats of arms of famous students and professors. Busts, memorial tablets, inscriptions, statues, and paintings depict the renown persons who have made the history of the University of Padua, as Pietro d'Abano, Nicolò Copernico, William Harvey, Andrea Vesalio, Gabriele Falloppio, Galileo Galilei, Fabrizio d'Acquapendente, Giovan Battista Morgagni, just to mention a few. The elegant statue of Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia is a homage paid to the world's first female graduate, who discussed her dissertation work in philosophy in 1678 at the University of Padua.
One more scientific treasure in town is the Botanic Garden. Created 1545 upon demand of the school of medicine of the University of Padua, it is the oldest university botanical garden in the world ever to remain in its original location. At first focused on the study the Simples (medicinal herbs), the Garden has seen Botany evolve from a science applied to medicine, to the various branches it has now. It is still the seat of feverish didactic and popular activity, of various research works and it preserves some rare and at-risk species. The Botanical Garden keeps nearly 6000 plants including some exotic, medicinal, poisonous, and insectivorous plants. The oldest living tree here is a Palm of St. Peter (Chamaerops humilis var. arborescens) planted in 1585. It is also known as Goethe's Palm because when the great German poet studied it, in 1786, he then expressed his intuition on evolution in his essay "The Metamorphosis of Plants". The annexed Library keeps historical herbals, science books, precious illustrated books some of which are the only copy extant. Since 1997 the Garden is in the UNESCO list of the World Heritage.
A mecca for the students in astronomy and for the fans of aerial views is the tower of the Observatory, known as La Specola, built in the second half of the 18th century to provide the University of Padua with an astronomic observatory wherefrom astronomic theories could be tested, thus starting a more modern approach to this science. Built over the Torlonga, an ancient tower belonging to the fortified system of the town castle, the Specola is now an interesting museum that preserves, among others, a large Sundial where Padua measured twelve o'clock; then observation instruments built by English craftsmen in the Eighteenth century, telescopes of German and Austrian make, and useful equipment to study meteorology.
Many other Science Museums complete the offer of the University of Padua: the Geological and Paleontologic Museum, the Museum of the History of Physics, the Museum of Mineralogy, various research and scientific experimentation institutes; these are all centres and labs that partner with the University, but also public or privately owned tiny jewels that witness the passion stimulated in creative souls by the University factory. An extraordinary example is the Museo del Pre-Cinema e della Lanterna Magica (the Museum of the age that preceded cinema and of magic lanterns) that exhibits the precious collection by Laura Minici Zotti in a setting that reminds of the past. The collection includes magic lanterns, painted glasses for projection, old optical instruments and toys, music instruments, optical views and even a shadow theatre from Java, all these objects being rigorously vintage. An exceptional trip in the magic and in the enchantment of the age that preceded the invention of cinema.
For the time being it is virtual only, but very soon visitors will have the opportunity to see the extraordinary Museum on the History of Medicine and Health, to be located in the 15th-century Hospital of San Francesco Grande. The museum is to provide information and documents on the important tradition and on the evolution of health-care and medicine in Padua. Pending the official opening, you can make a virtual tour from the website www.musme.padova.it