Thursday, 27 July 2017

Beautiful conical-hat like houses of Alberobello

Old houses of Alberobello with black conical roofs that look like houses-with-hats, are an amazing spectacle. They represent an ancient tradition that has origins in pre-historical times. This post is about the magical Alberobello.

Trulli houses in Alberobello with signs painted on the roof - Photographs by Sunil Deepak

Reaching Alberobello

Alberobello (literally "Beautiful tree") is a tiny town in Apulia region of south Italy. Nearest national line train station is at Bari, 57 km away. From Bari, you can get a local train which takes you to Alberobello station in about 1.5 to 2 hours.

A 10-15 minutes walk from the railway station to Corso Trento e Trieste  and then towards Via Indipendenza-Largo Martellotta will take you to the old parts of the city characterized by the Trulli, the houses with black conical roofs.

A road sign on Via Indipendenza (image below) points to the stairs going up to a Belvedere terrace from where you can have an overview of the Trulli area.

Trulli houses in Alberobello - Belvedere - Photographs by Sunil Deepak

To see more Trulli houses, you can also visit the surrounding areas in the Itria valley such as Locorotondo and Cisternino. However, I think that the visual impact of these houses is seen best in Alberobello, where they are grouped together in one area. For example, the image below shows the Trulli houses in Cisterino.

Trulli houses in Cisternino, Itria Valley - Photographs by Sunil Deepak

Characteristics of Trulli houses

The Trulli are made of stones without using any mortar or binding cement in any part of the construction. This means that the builders need to select and cut the stones in a certain way and then fit them together so that they make a stable and water/wind-proof dwelling.

Trulli houses in Alberobello - Largo Martelotta road - Photographs by Sunil Deepak

This kind of house constructions were started during the Bronze age around 1500 BCE. For example in the island of Sardinia there are prehistoric buildings called Nauraghe, made just with stones without any mud or mortar to bind them. The houses in Alberobello are around 500 years old.

History of Alberobello

Alberobello city came up in 16th century along the banks of Cana river. People were ordered to build their houses only with dry stones and without using any mortar. This was done to avoid paying taxes to the kingdom of Naples which ruled this area, as dry stone-houses were treated as temporary buildings.

Since this area was rich in limestone and Karst-stone, people started building trulli houses. The image below shows a couple of pictures from 1920, showing this area when it was densely inhabited.

Trulli houses in Alberobello in 1920s - Photographs by Sunil Deepak

In the 20th century, when people had more money, they started demolishing the trulli houses to build modern cement-houses. About 200 trulli houses were thus demolished. Fortunately, during early 1990s, a new mayor of Alberobello stopped the demolitions and developed it as a tourist attraction.

Trulli of Alberobello

Roads going up and down the gentle hills around Viale Margherita in Alberobello are lined with trulli houses. In many of them there are souvenir shops for the tourists where they sell traditional crafts of Apulia.

Trulli houses in Alberobello - a sourvenir shop - Photographs by Sunil Deepak

Many houses have the sign of cross or the zodiac signs painted on their roofs.

Trulli houses in Alberobello with zodiac signs painted on the roof - Photographs by Sunil Deepak

There are different models of trulli including single one room buildings as well as, huge interconnected structures with different rooms and roofs.

Trulli houses in Alberobello - Different kind of roofs seen from Belvedere - Photographs by Sunil Deepak

The way the roofs are designed also show many variations.

Trulli houses in Alberobello - roof  designs - Photographs by Sunil Deepak

Many trulli houses are still inhabited. I met a person called Mr Sebastiano, who invited me inside his house to show it. He is retired and has grown up in the same house. As you can see in the image below, it is a simple but comfortable house from inside. It has a living room with a fireplace on one side and a tiny bedroom (separated by a curtain) a separate kitchen and a bathroom.

Trulli houses in Alberobello -Sebastiano house - Photographs by Sunil Deepak

Even the Sant Antonio (St. Anthony) church in this area has roofs built like Trulli, though it is not a real trulli building.

Trulli houses in Alberobello - St Anthony church - Photographs by Sunil Deepak

Art of Alberobello

There are many souvenir shops selling local art work in Alberobello. I loved the art work in one such shop run by a lady called Maria Caporaso. Two examples of her art are presented below.

Alberobello - Art at Maria Caporaso shop - Photographs by Sunil Deepak

Alberobello - Art at Maria Caporaso shop - Photographs by Sunil Deepak


The traditional trulli houses of Alberobello with their black conical roofs make the old town look like a globlin-land from a children's book. I adored this city and its atmosphere.

The countryside around it is famous for its olive trees and oil. The sea is not very far and has amazing colours. There are many small characteristic towns nearby including the incredible city-in-white Ostuni. If you are planning an Italian holiday which is outside the famous big tourist cities, this is a great area for it.

Alberobello - a street of old town with trulli houses - Photographs by Sunil Deepak

The last bit of information is for the Bollywood lovers - a part of the song "Khuda Jaane" from the Bollywood film "Bachna Ae Haseeno" with Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika Padukone was shot here in Alberobello.


Monday, 10 July 2017

The angel queen of Venice called Maria

Carnival of Venice is famous for its beautiful masks and costumes. The carnival celebrations last for about ten days starting with the procession of 12 most beautiful girls of Venice. This procession is known as the Festival of the Marias.

Festival of Marias during Carnival of Venice, Italy - © Images by Sunil Deepak

This post is about the Festival in which 12 beautiful Venetian girls  are dressed as princesses and one of them becomes the Queen of Venice and the angel in the "Flight of Angel" festival of the carnival.

A Brief History of the Festival of Marias
Around 9th century CE, the Republic of Venice had a tradition linked with the religious festival of “Purity of Maria” and was celebrated on 2nd February of each year. During this festival, 12 beautiful girls of Venice belonging to poor families were selected to be Marias. Each girl was provided beautiful clothes and jewellery by a rich Venetian family and helped to get married.

Festival of Marias during Carnival of Venice, Italy - © Images by Sunil Deepak

However, over centuries, the rich families were not very happy to give away their money. Even some poor families, when their girls were not selected as Marias, were also unhappy with this festival.

Thus, instead of selecting the poor girls, they started carrying wooden Marias with clothes and jewellery of the rich families. After the procession, the clothes and jewellery was returned to the owners.

However, Venetians did not like the idea of wooden Marias and they started throwing rotten vegetables at them during the processions. Doge, the ruler of Venice, tried with a law prohibiting the throwing of rotten vegetables but it did not have much impact and slowly, the festival procession was stopped.

This festival was revived in 1999 as a part of the Carnival celebrations. Now, it is organised on the first day of the Carnival, around 10 days before the Mardi Gras celebrations.

The selection process starts a long time before the carnival. Girls resident in the Venice province can take part in this process.

Procession of the Marias

The procession starts in the afternoon around 2.30 PM from San Pietro di Castello in Venice and culminates in San Marco square where the 12 Marias are officially presented to the people of Venice.

There are two groups of Marias in the procession – those of the previous year and those selected for the present year. They are accompanied by different groups of persons dressed in medieval costumes coming from Venice and neighbouring towns.

Festival of Marias during Carnival of Venice, Italy - © Images by Sunil Deepak

A big group of persons in the procession are those wearing medieval costumes of warriors and crusaders.

Festival of Marias during Carnival of Venice, Italy - © Images by Sunil Deepak

Another group is that of drummers dressed in medieval costumes.

Festival of Marias during Carnival of Venice, Italy - © Images by Sunil Deepak

Another big group is that of persons dressed as noble families of Venice with richly embroidered and colourful dresses.

Festival of Marias during Carnival of Venice, Italy - © Images by Sunil Deepak

Then there are clowns, dancers, acrobats.

Festival of Marias during Carnival of Venice, Italy - © Images by Sunil Deepak

The 12 Marias from the past year wear dark brown richly embroidered costumes. For part of the procession, they are carried on palanquins by a group of Venetian men.

Festival of Marias during Carnival of Venice, Italy - © Images by Sunil Deepak

They are followed by the Marias selected for the current year wearing rich brocades.

Festival of Marias during Carnival of Venice, Italy - © Images by Sunil Deepak

There are also the wooden Marias in the procession, though now they do not wear real costumes or jewellrey.

Festival of Marias during Carnival of Venice, Italy - © Images by Sunil Deepak

It is a beautiful procession and if you plan to visit the carnival of Venice, make sure to be there for the Festival of Marias.

After the Festival of Marias

On Monday, a day before Mardi Gras (last day of the carnival), among the 12 Marias, one girl is selected to be Ms Carnival or the Queen Maria for the next 12 months, a kind of Miss Venice.

Festival of Marias during Carnival of Venice, Italy - © Images by Sunil Deepak

One year later, the Queen Maria will become the Angel for the “Flight of Angel” festival of the Venice Carnival, during which a girl descends from the bell tower in the San Marco square.


Venice is a unique city, unlike any other city in the world. During carnival, Venice becomes magical. Most people think that carnival means colourful costumes and masks on the weekend leading to Mardi Gras. However, Festival of Marias is a wonderful inauguration of the carnival celebrations.

Festival of Marias during Carnival of Venice, Italy - © Images by Sunil Deepak

I love the Carnival Celebrations in Venice even if it is very crowded. The colurs, the joy and richness of costumes and masks, makes up for all the noise and confusion.


Friday, 30 June 2017

Looking for science in Renaissance period art in Bologna

How did the science influence the art in the renaissance period? To answer this question, let me take you to an old church in the medieval part of Bologna (Italy). It has some beautiful paintings like the one in the image below which shows the details of the Bentivoglio family portrait.

Paintings in San Giacomo church, Bologna - Photo by Sunil Deepak

Via Zamboni is a historical road of Bologna leading from the twin-towers in the city centre to the San Donato gate. Along this road is an old church with some paintings that illustrate the influence of scientific discoveries on the art in the 16th century Italy.

Verdi Square and San Giacomo Church

Via Zamboni also leads to the Jewish Ghetto of medieval Bologna. The road going to the ghetto is predictably called Via dell'Inferno (the Hell road) illustrating the feelings of the medieval Catholic church towards the Jews.

Verdi Square is the area of university students in Bologna, located on Via Zamboni and facing the Municipal Theatre from 18th century. It is known for its noisy night life, open air caffes and cultural events. The image below showing Verdi Square and San Giacomo church is unusual since it seems deserted. This was because it was clicked during a snow storm. Normally this place is full of students.

Verdi square and San Giacomo church, Bologna - Photo by Sunil Deepak

San Giacomo is an old church next to the Verdi square. Built in Romanesque style, its construction was started in 1267. Its outer walls still carry signs of old frescoes.

Frescoes in San Giacomo church, Bologna - Photo by Sunil Deepak

In 1463 century, the Bentivoglio family, who were the de facto rulers of Bologna and whose palace was just across from San Giacomo church, made their own personal family chapel in this church. Their family palace was destroyed by the angry Bologna people in 1507.

Around 1798 when Napoleon conquered Bologna, the Augustine friars living in San Giacomo were expelled. In the 19th century they came back but they could never get back their monastery where a music conservatory had been started. St. Cecilia chapel next door to San Giacomo in the old monastery is a small jewel with all its walls covered by colourful frescoes.

Science and Art in Renaissance Bologna

Today we look at arts and science as separate disciplines. However, in the renaissance period as people started looking at the world and at natural phenomenon in a rational way, there were no such distinctions. The same person could dabble in art as well be interested in astronomy or understanding of body functions. University students in Bologna studied both art and science subjects without distinction. The image below shows a group of university students of Bologna in a 16th century sculpture in San Giacomo church. Their tired or bored faces are not very different from those of modern students.

Renaissance period students, San Giacomo church, Bologna - Photo by Sunil Deepak

For example, a famous scientist, Ulisse Aldrovandi born in Bologna in 1522, set up an important botanical garden. He was also a professor of philosophy and later started the department of natural history. He is called the father of geology for his studies of earth formations, rocks and fossils. He coined the word "geology" in 1603. He also created a huge encyclopedia with illustrations of plants from different parts of the world. Thus, art and science were closely inter-linked in renaissance period.

The Changing Italian Art in 1500s 

Around 1500 CE was the period of the early renaissance and Italy had a large number of great artists who were discovering a new way of making art. The artists included MichaelangeloLeonardo da VinciRaffaelloBrunelleschi and many others. They introduced the concept of "prospect" in the art based on the understandings of geometry and mathematics.

Till then, the art had mainly been flat and two dimensional. Paintings showed people and events, but they did not have depth and proportions. The new ideas of "prospect" in the art, looked at things like the source and the angle of light. They analysed shadows and looked at the hidden geometric forms in the nature. They also looked at the proportions and the distances and introduced the idea of depth in the paintings. Thus paintings became more realistic.

On the left wall of the Bentivoglio chapel in San Giacomo church, there are two paintings by Lorenzo Costa, on the themes of death and fame (details of the painting on death are shown in the image below). The different kinds of rocks, hills and mountains shown in these two paintings, are specific rocks and hills around Bologna, painted in such a precise way that the places can be identified even today. This was the influence of the discussions and discoveries related to geology in that period.

Paintings in San Giacomo church, Bologna - Photo by Sunil Deepak

Thus artists started looking critically at the geography of the places, the structures of biological life and inanimate objects. This changed the way paintings were made.

The study of Geology was important not just for the artists, it also had other practical implications including the search for new metals and minerals useful for treating illnesses. It also had links with more esoteric ideas such as the alchemy.

Geology and Fossils

In Italy, people had found fossils of marine life and objects like the sea shells, while digging in the hills and mountains. They couldn't understand how these things had come to these places, so far away from the sea or rivers. The most accepted theory in Europe to explain such finds was through the ideas of universal floods during Noah's times as described in the Bible.

Leonardo da Vinci was the first person to leave written documents of his opinions on this subject. His argument was that the shells and fossils of marine animals could not have come to the mountains with the flood described in Bible, as that would have left such objects on the surfaces of the hills and not buried them inside the rocks. His hypothesis was that some time in the past, those same hills and mountains were at bottom of the oceans. Unfortunately, Leonardo preferred writing in "reverse handwriting" and thus his diaries were not properly read and understood till more than 200 hundred years later.

Another example of Science in Art from San Giacomo

San Giacomo has a painting by Bartolomeo Passerotti. At the bottom of this painting, there are three objects - a sparrow on the left and on the right, there are a shark tooth and a piece of rock (the image below shows the Passerotti's painting). Unless you look carefully, you will miss these objects.

Paintings in San Giacomo church, Bologna - Photo by Sunil Deepak

The sparrow is considered as the signature-sign of Passerotti (literally "Passerotto" means "sparrow"). The special thing about this sparrow is that it was painted in such a detailed and realistic way that it's species can be identified. It was a local species of sparrow that was very common in this part of Italy till about 300 years ago. Today it has been replaced by the more common hybrid or European sparrow. This showed the attention to real-life details in the paintings in this period.

The shark tooth near the foot-stone and the pebble on the bottom right of the painting, were both discovered in a hill near Bologna and are from the Aldrovandi's collection of natural history. The painter Passerotti was a friend of Aldrovandi, and by placing that tooth and pebble in his painting, he acknowledged his friend's work about the theories of natural history and geology.

The marvelous Bentivoglio Chapel

Apart from the Lorenzo Costa painting mentioned above, the Bentivoglio family chapel in San Giacomo is full of beautiful paintings. On the right wall, the chapel has a beautiful Bentivoglio family portrait of Giovanni the second, with his wife Ginevra and their eleven children. The whole family is standing around a sitting Madonna with baby Jesus.

Paintings in San Giacomo church, Bologna - Photo by Sunil Deepak

In the centre of the chapel, there is a beautiful altar-piece done by Francesco Raibolini.

San Donato church on Via Zamboni

Before concluding this post about influence of science in renaissance period Italy on art, let me tell you about another church on Via Zamboni.

This is the San Donato church. It is the said that old church in this place was burned down in 1210 CE. The present building was made in 1454 and was renovated in 1751 when the painter Francesco Orlandi painted its facade. It ceased to be an active church in 1805 and it now belongs to the Count Malvasia family.

The paintings done by Francesco Orlandi are in Trompe l'oeil (Deceive the eye) style. It is an art technique that uses realistic imagery to create the optical illusion that the depicted objects exist in three dimensions. For example, look at the window just above the church door - it seems as if it is actually surrounded by a niche, though it is all painted.

San Donato church in Via Zamboni of Bologna


Art and science were not always seen as two parallel domains which never met. As this visit to San Giacomo church shows, these two worlds influenced and talked to each other. Art and artists played an important role in studying and understanding the physical world. The image below shows one of the striking sculptures from San Giacomo church.

Art and sculptures in San Giacomo church, Bologna - Photo by Sunil Deepak
Most of the time when we visit museums and churches and look at paintings, we rarely stop to consider the specific elements and ask ourselves why did the painter put this particular element in this painting? As the visit to San Giacomo shows, this can sometimes provide with surprising answers.


Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Art and Culture in Fort Kochi

This is the second part of the post on Fort Kochi. It focuses on art, culture and day-trips opportunities.

Fort Kochi is like the Indian spice mixture, Masala, with different ethnic and religious groups. This part of India is known to offer refuge to persecuted persons from different parts of the world since ancient times. It offers numerous opportunities to discover verdant Kerala countryside as well as, to learn about the art and culture of this ancient land. The first image is from a visit to the Folklore museum near Fort Kochi.

For general information about Fort Kochi, seaside places to visit and important places of different religions in the area, you can also check the first part of this post.


Generally I love visiting museums. Unfortunately in India, the museums are dusty ill-kept places with little information about the exhibits and old fashioned rules like prohibition of photography. However, Fort Kochi was an exception to this trend. So let me start this post with the museums around Fort Kochi.

Ernakulam District Museum is near the Chinese fishing nets and the beach in Fort Kochi. When I visited it in April 2017, it was closed for renovation. However, I could still visit its gardens and admire the various sculptures exhibited there. It is located in a heritage building known as the Bastion Bunglow. The image below presents a sculpture by Joseph M. Verghese from the museum gardens.

There is another museum at the Dutch palace, above the Bhagwathi temple in Mattancherry. It was the palace of the Kochi kings built by the Dutch in the 17th century. However, photography is not allowed in this museum. Here, my favourite exhibits were two huge wall paintings showing the arrival of the Portuguese and their interactions with the local king, his warriors and the priests.

Another important local museum is the Folklore Museum at Thevara bridge connecting Kochi to Fort Kochi. You can take an auto to go there. You can also take a public bus going to Thevara. However the bus drops you 3 km away from the museum so you need to walk or to take an auto for the last part of the journey.

Folklore Museum is a private museum and has beautiful traditional handicrafts, art and sculptures. It also has a well-informed guides who can explain the significance of each exhibit. When I visited this museum I was in a hurry and could not spend time with the guide, but I really regretted it afterwards. It would have been a great opportunity to understand the significance of so many interesting cultural artifacts from Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

Fort Kochi jail on the Tower Road, next to the Tourist Police Station, can also be seen as a museum. The earliest documents about this building are from 1865, though it could have been older than that. Different Indian freedom fighters had passed through this jail including Muhammed Abdur Rehman, K J Harshal, A K Gopalan and E M S Namboodiripad.


Around Fort Kochi there are a few art galleries. You can also admire a lot of street art like the one in the image below.

Every two years, Fort Kochi holds an international Kochi Art Biennale. The last biennale was held here from December 2016 to March 2017 and the next Biennale is planned for December 2018. During the Biennale, art exhibitions are organised in different old heritage buildings of Fort Kochi. I was fortunate to be able to visit some of the art installations and exhibitions of the Biennale this year.

Different places in Fort Kochi organise daily cultural shows to present the traditional dances, especially Kathakkali and Mohiniattam. In most of these places, one hour before the dance show, you can also see the dancers getting ready for the Kathakkali performance and how they put on their intricate make-up.


Fort Kochi has different ferry ports for visits to neighbouring areas. For example, a 10 minutes ride costing a few Rupees on the Tourist boat will take you to Vypin island just across from Fort Kochi. I took this ferry and visited its light house. With red and white stripes, the light house looked very beautiful in the evening sun. It is located close to a popular beach.

In Vypin, I also visited a small but beautiful Shiva Temple near the light house which had colourful paintings of the deities on its walls. A couple of statues on the pillars guarding the temple-gate seemed to be very old however, I could not find someone to tell me more about this temple. The image below has the Shiva painting from this temple.


There is another ferry connecting Fort Kochi to the twin city of Ernakulam. This 20 minutes ride, including a stop-over in Willingdon island, will take you to different malls and shopping centres of Kochi and Ernakulam.


You can also try a back-water tour in Fort Kochi. Different local companies organise half or full day trips for backwater canals trips. They take you in a vehicle to Vaikom, from where you take a boat to go around these canals which go through the villages. The cost for a full day trip varies from Rs 850 to Rs 1500 and includes a traditional Kerala lunch. It is an opportunity to observe the calm village life, people and nature. The image below has a kingfisher bird seen during a backwater tour.

In an earlier visit to Kochi a few years ago, I had been to the half-day tour. Thus, this time I opted for a full day tour. In both half-day and full tours, you visit the canals, see the local village life in Kerala and visit some local small scale industries and development projects. For example, this time they took us to visit a cooperative making coir ropes.

In the full day tour they made us experience two different kinds of boats. However, except for the traditional Kerala lunch served on a banana leaf, in terms of canals and local visits, there was hardly any difference between the two tours. Thus, if you don't have much time, take the half day tour as you are not going to miss anything significant.


In conjunction with Kochi Art Biennale, Sahapedia has been involved in a mapping of different communities in Fort Kochi. The few examples of community-mapping I saw during my visit were very interesting. A mixture of persons from different religions and ethnic backgrounds live in Fort Kochi.


This second part of the post on Fort Kochi focuses on art, culture and day-trips opportunities. It is a magical place where art and culture are part of your daily living experience. I loved staying in Fort Kochi.

You can also check the first part of this post for general information, seaside places to visit and important places of different religions in Fort Kochi,


Saturday, 17 June 2017

Baby in mother's womb Museum of Bologna

The Science museum of Palazzo Poggi in Bologna (Italy) is famous for their models showing babies growing in the womb used for teaching about child-delivery to doctors, nurses and obstetricians. This post celebrates the recent birth of my grand-daughter.

Model of a baby in mother's womb at Palazzo Poggi of Bologna, Italy - Image by Sunil Deepak

However, this museum is not just about babies in the womb, it also has many other important exhibits related to scientific discoveries in the 16th -19th centuries. This post will introduce you to this beautiful museum.

Origins of the Science Museum in Poggi Palace

Bologna has one of the oldest universities in Europe, it started in 1088 and was part of that era which led to Enlightenment and Renaissance periods. During these, persons started looking at critically and exploring their surroundings, from natural phenomenon to rocks and minerals to plants and animals. Rationalism became the key word and people started questioning the religious dogmas.

Bologna had a number of noblemen (and a few noble women, though their work has not been documented equally well) who did pioneering work in the scientific enquiry. Ulisse Androvandi born in Bologna in 1522 was one such pioneer, whose work on natural history led to a private collection of objects, that became the core of the Science museum of Palazzo Poggi in the 20th century (Image below: the Aldrovandi room.

Aldrovandi room at Palazzo Poggi of Bologna, Italy - Image by Sunil Deepak

Poggi Palace was built around 1550 as the house of the Poggi family. In 1714 it became the Science Institute of Bologna and a tower of an astronomical observatory called Speculam was added. At the end of 18th century, the arrival of Napoleon in Bologna resulted in dispersal of the different collections of Poggi Palace. In early 20th century many of these were brought back to lay the foundation of the present museum.

Story of the Odysseus

The hall near the entrance, now used for meetings and events, shows beautiful paintings of the artist Pellegrino Tibaldi depicting the episodes from the life of Odysseus (Ulysses in Latin), the Greek king of Ithaca and the hero of Homer's epic poem The Odyssey.

Story of Odysseus by Pellegrino Tibaldi at Palazzo Poggi of Bologna, Italy - Image by Sunil Deepak

Thus, the Science Museum is also an important place to admire art. It includes the works of Niccolo dell'Abate, Prospero Fontana and others. Another work of Tibaldi, the story of Susanna, is on the first floor of the building, which hosts the main museum.

Babies in the womb exhibits

This is my favourite part of the museum. The use of three dimensional models to teach the complexities of child birth to future obstetricians was started in Bologna by Prof. Giovanni Antonio Galli in the 18th century (image below). His teaching was so good that a school of obstetrics was created here in 1758.

Model showing Giovanni Antonio Galli teaching to obstreticians, at Palazzo Poggi of Bologna, Italy - Image by Sunil Deepak

He combined the teaching of theory and practice through these models.

Child in the womb models at Palazzo Poggi of Bologna, Italy - Image by Sunil Deepak

The models show the different ways in which the umbilical cord can lie around the baby in the womb and in rare cases cause complications. Thus obstetricians could understand the mechanisms of cord-prolapse and other complications and think of solutions to safeguard the lives of the mothers and babies.

Umbilical cord and babies in the womb models at Palazzo Poggi of Bologna, Italy - Image by Sunil Deepak

The models also show the different positions of placenta inside the womb. The placenta is the bridge between the mother and the baby. Sometimes, the position of placenta near the womb opening at the bottom can create dangerous complications for the life of mother and baby. Therefore it was important for the obstetricians to understand those positions properly. In the 18th century this kind of understanding contributed to better delivery practices. Today such complications can be seen easily through ultrasound.

Models showing position of placenta in the uterus, at Palazzo Poggi of Bologna, Italy - Image by Sunil Deepak

The models also show the different ways in which identical and non-identical twins can occupy space inside the womb and how this may affect their delivery.

Models showing twins in a womb at Palazzo Poggi of Bologna, Italy - Image by Sunil Deepak

Anatomical wax statues

Doctors like Prof Galli employed their own sculptors and artists to make the human body models to teach to the students. Ercole Lelli was appointed as the head of this department of scientific artists. In 1742, Lelli proposed the creation of human sized statues of men and women to explain the different layers of muscles and bones. Thus the anatomy room was created in Poggi Palace in 1747.

Wax anatomical models of Enrico Lelli at Palazzo Poggi of Bologna, Italy - Image by Sunil Deepak

Inspired by their example, medical schools all over Europe created similar departments and human anatomy models.

The museum also hosts a copy of a famous female body model called "Medici's Venus" (the name referred to the Medici family of Florence as well as to doctors) created in Florence by the artist Clemente Susini around 1780. In this model, the students could open the different parts of the female body and understand how different organs were placed inside and their inter-relationships, including the pregnant uterus. The model was useful for surgery students to see the blood supply and nerves around the different organs and plan their surgery.

Medici's Venus model at Palazzo Poggi of Bologna, Italy - Image by Sunil Deepak

People visiting the museum are fascinated by these models and often forget to look around. For example, the room with the "Medici's Venus" has beautiful frescoes of cherubic boys busy in vineyard designed by Niccolò dell'Abate in 1552 before he left for the court of king Henry II in France.

Vineyard boys' frescoes at Palazzo Poggi of Bologna, Italy - Image by Sunil Deepak

Other important scientists in the museum

The museum is full of exhibits from Bologna, each of which has its own importance in the history of science in the world. It has equipment that was used to make important scientific discoveries. I just want to share two examples with you.

The first example is of Marcelo Malpighi, called the father of microscopic anatomy, histology, physiology and embryology. He pioneered the use of microscope to understand the human and animal bodies. For example, he was the first person to see the capillaries and explain how arteries and veins connected and their role in blood circulation. His name is remembered in "Malpighian" bodies.

Statue Marcelo Malpighi at Palazzo Poggi of Bologna, Italy - Image by Sunil Deepak

The other example is of Luigi Galvani who discovered different things about the electricity. It was his idea that human electricity transmission makes the contraction of muscles needed for body movements. He showed it by demonstrating the effect of electricity on a frog-leg.

Experiments of Luigi Galvani at Palazzo Poggi of Bologna, Italy - Image by Sunil Deepak

In the museum you will come across many names which are familiar to medical and science students during their studies. Personally I find it exciting to see the equipment those persons had invented in their search for understanding the world.


The science museum of Palazzo Poggi in Bologna is a treasure trove if you are interested in the history of medicine and use of art for teaching science. In this post, I have limited myself to certain parts of this museum. However, the museum has many more things to show, such as the development of war strategies and the ship-building.

Beautiful roof paintings at Palazzo Poggi of Bologna, Italy - Image by Sunil Deepak

I have been to the science museum a couple of times and every time, I find new things in it. If you are visiting Bologna and you are interested in the history of science, do not miss this amazing place.

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