Museo Galileo: 1930-2010 : The Flood of 1966

The Flood of 1966

Situated in the immediate vicinity of the river Arno, Palazzo Castellani was one of the buildings most violently struck by the disastrous flood of November 4, 1966. Water mixed with heating oil and mud flooded into the cellars and invaded the ground floor up to a height of four meters. The hundreds of instruments submerged in the torrent for hours were drastically damaged. Many days passed before the premises could be swept free of mud.

With the help of dozens of volunteers, eminent professors and anonymous citizens, led by the indomitable Righini Bonelli, the instruments were salvaged. As they emerged from the mud and debris, they were sent to specialized laboratories or, as in the case of Peter Leopold’s chemistry cabinet and a great many of the electrical instruments, entrusted to the care of Alberto Ulivelli and Andrea Rabbi, a carpenter hired for the occasion.

The expertise of specialists, restorers and historians of science, also on the international level, cast new light on a collection that, a few hours after the disaster, had seemed irremediably lost. Righini Bonelli managed to turn tragedy into opportunity, and on the premises of the Museum invaded by mud, the first school of restoration for scientific instruments came into being. The international reputation recently acquired by the Museum won it generous financial support, from both national and foreign institutions and foundations. Thanks to the efforts of I. Bernard Cohen, whose affection for the Museo was deeply felt, the Rockefeller Foundation was successfully involved.

Miraculously, most of the instruments were restored, and only the “petrifications” of Segato and Spirito, some of Zumbo’s wax models and the priceless mechanical clock of Johann Philipp Treffler, suffered irreparable damage.

The immense work of salvaging, with the participation of thousands of volunteers from all over the world, inspired Righini Bonelli to found the Accademia degli Infangati, which means literally “the Academy of the Muddied Ones” (Accademia degli Infangati).