As soon as I found out we were going to Italy, I got really excited about finding a way to go to Museo di Storia Naturale (La Specola) in Florence (and Naples/Ischia Ponte, but sadly that just was not possible). Since we were traveling by train from Rome to Venice and passing right through Florence anyway, we convinced everyone that it was a good idea to stop in Florence for the day. We checked our bags at the train station and Nat’s parents and sister went to a couple of museums while we went to La Specola, which was a dream come true. Surprisingly there was no one else there?! Except a couple of school groups that came racing through. The museum is a bit hidden in a city block. It was like heaven to me.

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I only took one photo on my camera in Florence outside the museum, but I took some on my phone.

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La Specola is considered the first European scientific museum opened to the public, inaugurated in 1775. It’s known as “La Specola” because of the presence in the building of a small tower used as an astronomical observatory. The collection contains over three million specimens.

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A lot of the mounts have obviously been around a long time, much longer than any taxidermy I’ve seen in America. We noticed eyes in general were often just wrong in placement, direction, shape. It was so interesting.

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The hippopotamus is the oldest specimen preserved in La Specola, appearing in the first inventory of the collections of 1763. “The live animal was donated by the Viceroy of Egypt to the Grand Duke of Tuscany in the 1700s and was probably kept in a pool in Boboli Gardens; the mark of the rope with which it was tied up can still be seen on the skin of the neck” (quoted from the museum guide).

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Second thylacine mount I’ve seen in person. The other was in the temporary “Whales: Giants of the Deep” exhibition at the Field Museum.

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The very coolest part of La Specola is the wax model collection, the largest collection of anatomical wax works in the world, made mostly by Clemente Susini between 1770 and 1850. A few of the rooms were closed for renovation, but what we saw was incredible (I still wish I’d been able to see the animal specimens, though!).

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The school groups we were there with were obviously there to see the wax models, and they packed the rooms for a while but then left us alone for a good few minutes in awe.

On the way back to the train station, we happened upon the Gelato Festival, so of course we tried a ton of flavors. Then back on the train headed for Venice!

For lots more from La Specola, see my Italy set on Flickr.