Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween from Florence

We interrupt our regularly scheduled posts on Andalucia to bring you a special Halloween themed update today.

Happy Halloween!

It's October 31st and I'm having some costume withdrawal here in Florence. I'm normally "that" person who spends weeks coming up with a costume idea and then tediously constructs the entire thing by hand hoping it turns out, while Travis couldn't care less if Halloween was banned for eternity and loathes dressing up. Besides "helping" to eat any left over candy his Halloween participation is zero. 

Without any special plans we decided to take shelter from the rain and hit some of Florence's world class museums today. Perhaps not in the top 100, but intriguing to us was La Specola, or the Museum of Natural History. The museum's 34 rooms feature zoological specimens and a collection of anatomical waxes, surprisingly it's also (possibly) the absolute best way to celebrate Halloween in Florence.

We'd read that the museum was a bit odd but were not prepared for the collection which resembles the content of a taxidermist's garage, who also happens to be a hoarder, and not very good at his job. Each room opens into floor to ceiling antique display cases stuffed with hundreds of species - mammals, reptiles, birds, fish, insects... it seems never ending. 

Better specimen jars than anything DIY by Martha Stewart

Butterflies, only creepy when in large numbers

As close as I was willing to get to this case

Is that a dog or a bat? We still aren't quite sure.

Family pet turned museum display (via)

He obviously hasn't seen any Alfred Hitchcock films

The collection dates back hundreds of years with many specimens donated by the Medici family - the museum itself was first founded in 1771. As a result, the hides and furs are a bit tattered on many of the animals and some of the taxidermy work is a bit suspect - partially due to aging of the collection as well as an unfamiliarity with the animals they were preserving. Legend has it that the hippopotamus specimen currently on display was originally a Medici family pet in the 17th century. After a natural death, the hide was taken to the taxidermist for preservation however, never having seen a hippopotamus before, he did his best to preserve the specimen and decided to finish the feet as he would for a dog.  

Although higher quality specimens can be found on display at other Natural History Museums, including the one we visited while in London, the presentation, atmosphere, and sheer size make this collection unique, and a bit bizarre. And the weird-level was only about to go up because once we made our way through the zoological collection we entered the area displaying anatomical waxes, something you won't see anywhere else. 

Creepy right?

The grey curls add a certain je ne sais quoi

Museum that moonlights as a haunted house

Quite the provocative pose

Multiple rooms of cases, waxes, and drawings

The displays oddly resemble caskets

Try creating that for your haunted house decor

An art developed in Florence in the 17th century for the purpose of teaching medicine, the anatomical waxes originally acted in place of cadavers. The collection is actually quite famous, with Napoleon ordering a set for medical schools in France, however the wax molds of organs, arteries and veins, and peeled back skin are also quite creepy and eerily lifelike. I imagine the constant stare from those true to life eyes was quite distracting to students trying to learn!

Very strange, a bit disturbing, and completely geeky, La Specola is a wonderfully different museum to anything in Florence. We really enjoyed our visit and unfortunately (or fortunately depending how you look at it) we were only two of a handful of visitors in the place. For the 6 Euro entry fee you really can't go wrong with a visit, especially if it coincides with one of the most haunted days of the year!

Note: I apologize as we are still writing about Andalucia although technically in Italy now and promise to get caught up as quickly as possible. Also, if you're freaking out because the posts are no longer in a linear order now that we've jumped ahead to Florence in celebration of Halloween, please take comfort in the fact that I too am having a hard time with this and you're not alone.

By Calli D with 2 comments


Wow! Something cool and unique to check out on my next trip to Florence. Thanks for sharing your trip there!

Thanks for reading, it was a fantastic the beaten path and different from what you typically expect in Florence.

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Calli and Travis returned from a four month trip through Europe more excited than ever to hit the open road. Who knows where they'll end up next...

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