La Specola, from prison to observatory

When Galileo Galilei, who stayed in Padua between 1592 and 1610, observed the sky through a telescope, he certainly did not do it from the Specola tower, which was transformed into an observatory just over 250 years ago.
Rather, he did it from the window and garden of his Padua home, in what is now Via Galilei.

The Specola tower certainly existed: the ancient defence tower built in the ninth century, the tor longa, had been rearranged under the tyranny of Ezzelino III da Romano as a prison and torture hall for the tyrant’s enemies. In ruins after the fall of Ezzelino, it was rebuilt in the second half of the fourteenth century by the new lords of Padua, the Carraresi, to be part of the new castle. In the sixteenth century, with the construction of the new city walls, it lost its defensive function to become a simple warehouse.

Progress and project drawings by the students of the practical architecture school of Domenico Cerato
Progress and project drawings by the students of the practical architecture school of Domenico Cerato

In 1761 the University Reformers decreed the construction of an observatory for astronomical observations, which was to be built by adapting an already existing structure: the choice fell on the Torlonga, after a first proposal that identified the tower of the main university building, the Bo. At that time the chair of astronomy was held by Giuseppe Toaldo, who defined a project in agreement with architect Domenico Cerato.

The construction works started in 1767: the project contemplated creating two separate observatories in the same tower, at different heights and with different functions. An adjacent crumbling building would have been restored and transformed into an Astronomer’s House. It took ten years and more than twice the budgeted money to complete the project, which was edited by Cerato in great detail seeking the safest and most functional solutions and the choice of the best materials.