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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, his telescope gazed out from the window and garden of his residence in what is now Via Galilei.

Built as an ancient defence tower in the ninth century, the Specola tower became a prison and dungeon under the tyranny of Ezzelino III da Romano in the 13th century. Left in ruins after the fall of Ezzelino, the tower was rebuilt as part of a new castle in the second half of the 14th century by the new lords of Padua, the Carraresi. In the 16th century, with the construction of the new city walls, it lost its defensive function to become a simple warehouse.

Tavole di stato di fatto e di progetto degli allievi della scuola di architettura pratica di Domenico Cerato
Early blueprint drawn by the students of Domenico Cerato from the school of architecture

In 1761, the Riformatori dello Studio (academic reformers) commissioned the reconstruction of a tower for astronomical observations. At this time, the tower found within the courtyard of Palazzo Bo was considered for the project but was later rejected. Giuseppe Toaldo, who was the Astronomy Chair, drafted an agreement with the architect Domenico Cerato to adapt the existing structure (la Torlonga) of the Specola into the needed observation tower for astronomical research.

The reconstruction project began in 1767, with some contemplation of building in the same tower of two distinct observatories. The idea was to build two towers at different heights for different functional needs and to restore part of the adjacent building into the headquarters for astronomical studies.

Ten years later and well over budget, the completed project was the safest and most functional solution for astronomical research thanks to Cerato’s specification, attention to detail and insistence on using the best material available.