La Specola, Florence

Panorama - taxidermy birds

Streets of Florence

On one little page in our City Guide to Florence is an entry with an especially enthusiastic star next to it. The entry is, of course, for the Museum of Zoology and Natural History, aka La Specola.

Down a side street from the Pitti Palace and up three flights of stairs, Craig and I spent a deceptively long time wandering the 34 rooms. It was a must see.

It is, essentially, a museum full of taxidermy and medical wax works. I could think of little better.


With a collection dating back to the Medici Family, and a nickname referencing the observatory that stood there in 1790, this unassuming little museum was just delightful. It’s also the oldest scientific Museum of Europe. At the time of its opening it was the only scientific museum or “wunderkammer” specifically created for the public to view.


Oh. And most of the labels were in untranslated Italian. Adorable.


Giant crabs


Odd looking lion

Yes. As you can see in the reflection next to the lion, I wore leopard print to a zoological museum.



Eee! Terrifying monkeys. I love them.

Rinolofio di blasius! Look at his little face!

Bird bird birds

Big alligator

Hey! There's the kiwi
Always look for the Kiwi.



I may have squealed just a little when I saw the room of rays.

Rays! Craig for size comparison
Craig added for size comparison.

There were only a few rooms of anatomical wax works but the detail was amazing.
(those of a sensitive disposition might want to skip the rest of this post)

Wax medical models from the 1800s

The art of anatomical waxworks was developed in Florence in the 17th century in order to teach medicine when practicing on corpses was illegal. Anatomical waxworks was slightly more true to life than learning surgery from a book. These waxworks are famous for having been modeled off actual corpses. How that is any worse than letting medical students loose on the deceased is simply beyond me.

Wax medical models from the 1800s

It’s just wax. It’s just wax.

Wax medical models from the 1800s

Saturday: Wax medical models from the 1800s


Wax medical models from the 1800s
I think this lady was my favourite. She was flayed open and yet her face was so serene. Like she was just about to fall asleep on a hot summer day.

Wax medical models from the 1800s

Wax medical models from the 1800s

One of my favourite parts of the whole museum was that, always a few steps behind us, we were shadowed by an Italian family, a mother, father, and a boy of about 6 years old who was just SO DAMN EXCITED to be there. We lost them in the anatomical section, they didn’t stay there long.

I am a little distraught that I didn’t notice the stuffed hippopotamus which was a 17th-century Medici pet that once lived in the Boboli Gardens. I know, I know they are, apparently, vicious killers but seriously? a hippopotamus ambling around your extensive gardens? it sounds pretty amazing.

Panorama - Medical wax works


  1. Debra Kolkka · August 3, 2012

    I’ve been to Florence dozens of times and I have not found this!!!! Thank you. I will be back in September and I am heading straight here.

    • Sarah-Rose · August 3, 2012

      oh gosh! I am so jealous. Enjoy La Specola!
      Also: my favourite restaurant there was called Bepo. Their tagliatelle al chingale changed my life.

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