Summary of Scientific/Historical Traveling Sites
Italy (North to South)
Spring 2007

Alessandro Volta (Como and Pavia)

Como: Volta was born in Como in 1745 and this Italian Lake District city claims him as its own. Tanford and Reynolds say that “no other city in the world pays as splendid a tribute to a scientist as Como does to Alessandro Volta". Important sites start with the Tempio Voltiano (Temple in honor of Volta), a neoclassical rotunda positioned as the centerpiece of Como’s lakefront. Here we find an excellent museum with many of Volta’s “piles” including the original tower of disks. There are also paintings of Volta and an impressive collection of his books including Joseph Priestley’s famous History of Electricity and others in English. (Open daily except Mondavs 10:00-12:00 and 15:00-18:00 April-September - 10:00-12:00 and 14:00-16:00 p.m. October-March). A guide to the sights in Como is given at

Villa Olmo is a beautiful 18th century neo-classical villa in which a center of science and culture is housed. There are changing exhibitions, for example on the life and work of Alessandro Volta. See On the centenary of Alessandro Volta's death in 1927, the villa hosted the International Exhibition and there followed numerous local events, congresses, conventions, symposia and shows. Since 1982 it has been the home of the "Alessandro Volta" Centre of Scientific Culture (see, and hosts international events. The villa is located at Via Cantoni 1, 22100; ph. (+39)031.579811. Motorists should take the “Como Nord” exit on the A9 motorway from Milan. This takes them virtually to the gates of Villa Olmo.

There is also a piazza named after Volta with a prominent statue of him and a street, the Viale Alessandro Volta, which contains (at number 62) the grand townhouse where he was born. Other sites include Liceo A. Volta, the high school where he first taught physics; the church where he was married; the Torre di Porta Nuovo. Nearby is the Camnago Volta, three kilometers from Como, where his summer house is located as the mausoleum where he was buried.

A funicular connects the center of Como with Brunate, a small village (1800 inhabitants) on a mountain at 715 meters above sea level. The journey takes about 7 minutes and the view is worth the trip.

Pavia: Dr. Lucio Fregonese, Museo per la Storia dell'Università di Pavia, Strada Nuova 65, 27100 is a contact person for a reconstruction of Volta's scientific cabinet. Contact Also see:

Amadeo Avogadro (Vercelli)

Avogadro was a Professor of Physics in Turin on two different occasions: 1820 – 1823; 1833 – 1853. Turin was under the control of the French who, led by Napoleon Bonaparte, had recently overrun the northern Italian states. Avogadro started his work in physics and chemistry in 1800 and published his early papers in French. He was teaching at the Royal College of Vercelli in 1811 when his most important research paper was published in J.C. Lamétherie’s relative obscure Journal de physique. That paper supported Gay-Lussac’s work and reconfirmed the “equal volumes of gases contain equal numbers of particles” or so-called EVEN hypothesis. He proposed that the relative vapor densities of gases would be directly related to the relative weights of the molecules involved in these reactions. Avogadro also suggested “submolecularity in elementary molecules”, which usually manifests itself as diatomic molecules but the molecularity could be higher. He did not use the word “atom” of the phrase “diatomic molecule”. In 1814 André Marie Ampère published a similar theory in the more prestigious Annales de chimie. Ampère stated that the simplest substances must be in simplest polyhedral form, the tetrahedron. This so-called Avogadro-Ampère gas theory seems to have lain unnoticed for a number of years. What we know as Avogadro’s hypotheses includes both EVEN and the idea of submolecularity.

Vercelli is the town where Avogadro spent his most productive years. The town is proud of Avogadro and pays it tribute with a prominent statue between the railway station and the Basilica Sant’Andea (Piazza Roma 35, 13100). For photographs of the basilica see A few kilometers north of Vercelli and about ten miles east of Biella, we find the village of Quarenga where the Avogadro family headquarters, the family chapel, and the mausoleum where both Avogadro and his wife are buried. Quarenga does not seem to be listed on any maps available at the moment.

Luigi Galvani (Bologna)

Bologna is an impressive city with broad arcaded streets – the site of the first real university in Europe. The university is located outside the city but the old university was in the Palazzo Archiginnasio, located on the Piazza Galvani behind the Basilica San Petronio. There is anatomical theatre there, all made of wood, with statues of Hippocrates, Galen and a lecture podium with an impressive canopy supported by statues of skinless human bodies. Both Luigi Galvani and Guglielmo Marconi are well-remembered Bolognesi and there is a statue of Galvani in the Piazza named after him. We will not be able to stop in Bologna on the 2007 trip.

Galileo (Pisa and Florence)

1. Pisa: Galileo was born and went to university in Pisa and also, it is said, observed the swaying motion of hanging lamps there. In 1592 he was appointed professor of mathematics at Padua. Here he discovered the moons of Jupiter. In Pisa, the Leaning Tower and a great marble cathedral are both located in one of the great piazzas of Italy, the Piazza del Duomo. Both of these sites are linked to Galileo’s early awareness of the physical laws of motion. There is also a small museum in the Domus Galilaeana but this seems to be primarily a library housing valuable collections related to Galileo, Enrico Fermi and other scientists. Located at Via S. Maria, 26 56126. See (English version also available)

2. Florence: The Museo di Storia della Scienza (Museum for the history of science) is located in Florence. This is a fine museum and has a room dedicated to Galileo’s instruments and a working model of an inclined plane. Our contact at the museum is Dr. Giorgio Strano. A new sundial is being built in front of the museum at the Piazza dei Giudici and a walking tour of Florence sundials has been devised. We hope to see the Galileo room as well as any items related to Evangelista Torricelli, Alessandro Volta, Amadeo Avogadro, Stanislao Cannizzaro or other "atomic scientists". Piazza dei Giudici 1; Hours of Operation: MWF: 9:30 - 13:00; 14:00-17:00; TTh: 9:30 - 13:00 See

The Fondazione Scienza e Tecnica (Foundation for Science and Technology) is located at via Giusti 29 in Florence. Our contacts there are Dr. Paolo Brenni and Dr. Anna Giatti. Here there is a very large collection of 19th century scientific instruments. Dr. Brenni is the scientist responsible for this collection. We are hoping to see instruments such as voltaic piles, spectroscopes, manometers, as well as electromagnetic and electrostatic equipment. See

Italy’s greatest monument to Galileo is in Florence’s Basilica of Santa Croce (Basilica of the Holy Cross). See and The former website contains a nicely succinct biographical sketch of Galileo.

The house where Galileo was placed under house arrest in Arcetri, about 2 miles from the center of Florence. According to one report it is owned by the state but is not in very good condition. However, see and This may well be a private residence.

Enrico Fermi (Rome and Pisa)

Rome: Citta Universitaria - Physics Museum. Dr. Giovanni Battimelli, a historian of physics in the Physics department, is our contact. He indicates that the museum has quite a few items related to Fermi's research activities during the thirties. University City Viale delle Scienze I-00186, Rome.

Museo Storico della Fisica e Centro Studi e Ricerche "Enrico Fermi", Via Panisperna, Rome. Presently seeking more information.

Pisa: His most important work was done in Rome but the depository for Fermi documents is in Pisa at the Domus Galilaeana. Two heavy safes in the magnificent building of the Domus Galilaeana in Pisa house the original documents relative to the scientific activity carried out by Enrico Fermi during his life in Italy,beginning from his first studies at the Classical Lyceum in 1918 until his departure for the U.S.A. in 1938. Some sources say that it also houses or housed some of the instruments he used in Rome. (See above Pisa entry for more information on the Domus Galilaeana.)

Stanislao Cannizzaro (Palermo, Sicily)

In 1851 he went to Sardinia in northern Italy. Here he discovered the reaction that bears his name. Cannizzaro was born in Palermo in Sicily, but lived in Rome after 1871. He was a hero of the revolutions and his body was brought back to his native city in 1926, the centenary of his birth. He was reburied with due honor in the Palermo Pantheon (i.e., the church of San Domenico) in Palermo. Cannizzaro was appointed a member of the ruling council of Sicily after Garibaldi and his famous red-shirted “Thousand” succeeded in capturing the island in 1860. (And for this reason, Tanford & Reynold say, Cannizzaro had to leave the Karlsruhe conference earlier than he had intended.) Cannizzaro was also a professor of chemistry at the University of Palermo. This site is too far south for us to visit on our 2007 trip.

Italian-English Dictionary: