Two hours at the Natural History Museum
of Pisa with my child
An amazing journey through Nature and its wonders*
My first contribution to ‘Dario goes to the museum’, the traveling with kids column of Tuscany at Heart blog, will deal with an almost unknown but interesting off the beaten path attraction in Tuscany, that is the Museum of Natural History and Territory of the University of Pisa.
The idea came to me last summer, when I visited its unique collections with my partner in life, Raffaele, and our nearly three years old son, Dario.
It was the second time I brought him there: the year before, Dario had shown some interest for the wonderfully stuffed animals of the Historical Gallery and the aquarium of freshwater, which is the latest addition to the the museum and the biggest of its kind in Italy.
This time Dario enjoyed it over whole so much, that I said to myself it could have been nice to share my personal experience with everyone and all travellers who were seeking for a ‘place of wonders’ to bring their children!
At the foot of Pisan Mountain (Monte Pisano), among olive groves and chestnut trees of the so called ‘Val Graziosa’ (‘Pretty Valley’), just off the historic centre of the medieval village of Calci, there it stands out a XIV-XVIII century Carthusian monastery.
The western wing of the building hosts the Museum of Natural History and Territory of the University of Pisa (the oldest in Europe), which original collections were started in 1591 and moved to this inspiring and charming location in 1977, when the monks left.
This is the place where the three of us truly enjoyed our two hours journey through Nature, its wonders, varieties and curiosities.
We arrived at the Museum in the early afernoon of a hot day of July: we could easily park our car in the free parking area located a few steps away from the entrance door.
Since Dario was asleep, we decided to change the time of our visit (that I had to book in advance on the museum website) and have something to drink at the cosy Agriturismo you find just in front of the Charterhouse.
We were not hungry, although I bought some organic vegetables and fruits at the little ‘km0 shop’ that the owners run just next to the bar desk: this is much appreciated!
When Dario awoke, he was happy to be in a lovely garden, by a shaded table and with the opportunity to drink some fresh water from my glass.
He then was ready to go on a new adventure with us!
Before starting the visit we decided to leave the stroller in the guests/rest room, which faces a well supplied bookshop and information point.
Due to covid-19 restrictions, there wasn’t the opportunity to follow a free visit path – the collections are set on three floors: we had to follow two different routes, one signed in green, the other one in yellow (tuscany-at-heart-pisa-natural-history-museum-map).
This fact turned into an opportunity to play with my son: I pretended we were going to join an intriguing animal ‘hunt’!
I gave him the map of the site and encouraged him to follow the animal fingerprints he could see sticked on the floor (and print on the signs placed in different spots to give the direction) – whom might have they belong to? Either to a dino or a Gruffalo or a bear?
Soon after we entered the court of honour of the Charterhouse, Dario was attracted by the skeleton of a Carnotaurus, displayed on the left-hand side, under the portico.
We then decided to follow the ‘Green path’ first, that includes: the Historical gallery, Geological eras, Evolution of birds, Dinosaurs, The prehistory of Monte Pisano and the Aquarium.
Dario was simply enthusiastic: there are so many wonderfully stuffed animals in the historical Gallery and real exotic fishes in the acquarium, that he wanted to do the ‘green path’ two times.
However, in between, we took the Yellow path, that includes: Historical Gallery, Amphibians and reptiles, Mammals, Archaeocetes, Cetaceans, Primates, Human evolution and Minerals.
Dario was interested in the human evolution and primates, though he literally fell in love with the Gallery of Cetaceans: there you find a room of 100 m2 – an ancient loggia, nowadays closed with large glass windows – hosting 30 original skeletons of dolfins and whales, most of them collected in the second half of XIX century.
Besides a replica of a killer whale, Dario was amazed by the real skeletons of the three biggest animals in the world: the blue whale (Pinocchio’s), the fin whale and the boreal whale!
An interesting temporary exhibition on ‘Plastic and us’ could not be held in a better place than the Gallery of Cetaceans: it made us more conscious of its harmful effects on enviroment and our life in general.
Our sight was then delighted by the view on the gardens of the Charterhouse, which itself is worth a visit.
It was a truly memorable experience!
*I wish to dedicate this short article to all dear friends who have been thinking of and supporting me in 2020, a very difficult year to all of us. A special thank goes to Kathy P. Brines & family, Ernesto Bautista III, Chantal de Werd, Gloria Gasperi, Nicole Logber Evans & family, Maria Mauceri, Carol Nizzolari, Brenda Viviani, Philippa Whilkinson, and last but not least my mum, Brunella, my partner in life, Raffaele, and my son, Dario!