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  • Former Marlia Observatory, Capannori.zoom in altra finestra
  • Former Marlia Observatory, Capannori.zoom in altra finestra

Ex Specola di Marlia [Former Marlia Observatory]

The astronomical observatory of Marlia was conceived by Maria Luisa of Bourbon as a natural complement of the Royal Lyceum of Lucca. The Duchess requested the consultation of the astronomer Francesco Saverio de Zach to decide on the best site for the observatory and the instruments to be purchased.

The project was commissioned of the architect Lorenzo Nottolini, and construction was begun in 1819 on a little hill in the park of the Royal Villa of Marlia. Jean-Louis Pons was called upon to direct the Observatory and Michele Bertini was appointed his assistant. The work proceeded slowly, and in December 1819, in only twenty days’ time, a temporary observatory in wood was built in the park, from which Pons could make astronomical observations. The astronomer, known as the "chasseur de comètes", did not belie his fame even during his brief stay in the Duchy of Lucca (from late 1819 to late 1824), where he discovered six now comets.

The death of the duchess and the succession of her son Charles Ludwig had negative repercussions on the life of the observatory. In 1824 the duke ordered that the little observatory be closed, and its construction, already at an advanced stage, was suspended. In this decision Ascanio Mansi, Secretary of State, was also involved, as can be seen from a letter he sent to Charles Ludwig: "... I abstain in the meantime from proposing to the consideration of His Excellency any suggestion before his ideas have been made known to me, but I cannot refrain from pointing out to him that, among the reforms to be made, there should be numbered primarily that of the astronomy located at the Royal Villa of Marlia, which receives from the Royal Lyceum the annual amount of L. 4000 without its work serving in the slightest to the public good, or to incrementing the science of the Lyceum, and that, in addition, it is also to some extent a burden on the Treasury due to the frequent sums that must be paid it for the discovery of comets of no public utility... ". Pons, obliged to leave Lucca, went to Florence to direct "La Specola", at the invitation of the Grand Duke of Tuscany Leopold II.

Today the observatory, while retaining its original elegant architectural forms, has lost its association with astronomy and is a private residence outside the park of the Royal Villa, considerably reduced from its original size.


Texts by Graziano Magrini

English translation by Catherine Frost

Last update 08/gen/2008