Ferrara - Italy

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Virtual Tour

Elia RossiThe origin of the Museum of Natural History in Ferrara

The University of Ferrara, which at that time belonged to the Local Administration, established the chair of Natural History in 1862. It also was decided that a natural history museum would be established. The first museum was very modest, it consisted of a collection of minerals donated by Priest Antonio Marescotti that was added to the pre-existing Civic Museum collection of African zoological specimens, which were sent from Egypt around 1850 by Doctor Elia Rossi who was residing in Egypt at the time. The collections were entrusted in that period to Giuseppe Antonelli, who had been the keeper of Civic Museum since 1825. According to his carefully executed inventory, the museum housed 3222 types of minerals, 535 of which Antonelli had personally donated. There also were 70 zoological specimens and 12 boxes of insects. In 1864, the Communal Council decided to entrust the direction of the new museum, together with the Chair of Natural history, to Galdino Gardini who, at that time was teaching at the "liceo regio" and at the Technical schools of Ferrara. On May 26th, 1872, the Museum of Natural History was solemnly inaugurated in the premises of the former convent dei Martiri on Roversella Street. The Museum occupied only three rooms. The collections increased to such an extent, and would continue to increase over the following 20 years that it became possible to document all aspects of the natural sciences. Gardini continued his relationships with donors and benefactors (Elia Rossi, Angelo Castelbolognesi, Enea Cavalieri, Angelo Fiorini, Angelo Conti). As a result of his devotion, the property of the Museum expanded, and under his direction the number of collections increased to include 74.000 specimens of zoology, mineralogy, geology, palaeontology and ethnography.

Decadence and renaissance

Galdino GardiniAfter Gardini retired in 1892, the museum was closed to the public for an official second general inventory. In the year 1923, following the Gentile reform, the Civic University became the property of the State, while the museum remained under the patronage of the Commune. In 1937, the collections that had already been partly divided, were gathered together and moved to a new very central seat, where they are currently housed. In this way a "forum of culture" was created largely in an attempt to bring prestige to the Fascist Mario F. CanellaAdministration. It was only in the immediate post-war period when Mario Francesco Canella, a University teacher of comparative Zoology and Anatomy was appointed director of the Museum, that the museum regained importance. The new director was born in Venice in 1898. As a self-taught person, he always took great interest in many subjects and thanks to a strong character and will he successfully climbed the ladder of University academia. In accordance with his didactic views, he maintained that the Museum was to be organised according to simple but telling criteria of natural classification. New display cases were built, and objects, which had been blackened and spoiled by the elements of the weather, were restored. He featured special acquisitions of new specimens and models of remarkable importance such as the mould of plesiosaur and the skull of a tyrannosaur. The exhibits were enhanced with photos, pictorial drafts, and graphs. The newly re-designed museum was inaugurated in 1952. Mario Francesco Canella stayed as director until 1978. The current display largely reflects his contributions, although it was necessary to restructure the exhibition itinerary. The museum has preserved Canella's section in order to preserve the model of that cultural identity.

The recent years

Fausto Pesarini, a naturalist and biologist who specializes in entomology, directed the museum until 2012. Since he was appointed as director in 1982, the process of renewing the museum's structures and functions has started and it is currently underway. In 1987, the museum inaugurated its own ecological station. After an initial phase during which much of the work was contracted out, since 1990 a biologist has been directing the station's activities and reports. In 1990, the zoological curator of vertebrates was appointed and in 1996, the curator for geopalaeontology was engaged to support him. Years of extensive research followed leading to the organisation of the didactic section with the aim of helping schools. The direct management of the didactic section proved to be too costly, so today these activities are directed by outside contractors specialized in this sector. Since then, the importance of the museum has grown together with the development of other important initiatives both in research and in publishing. Year 1999 was particularly important for the Museum: as the new exhibition called "ambiente terra" which focused on the evolution and interpretation of the environment was inaugurated. It was conceived and created by the scientific staff of the museum according to innovative criteria for a museum. In addition, the official Internet site was created by the internal staff and directed entirely by the Researcher of the ecological station. The new magazine called "the Annals" was officially launched featuring articles about zoology and geo-palaeontology. Finally, in the same year, a series of specialized courses began on the taxonomic identification of the invertebrates. They were addressed to University and post-University subscribers. The activities of the museum continue to expand in order to attract new subscribers by means of initiatives which specifically addressed to adults. Collaborative efforts are increasing with other important institutions (University, regional parks) in the fields of nature and science in the Emilia- Romagna region.

Presentely, the Museum is directed by Stefano Mazzotti, who still also manages the zoological vertebrate collections.



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