Turin is a very elegant city in the north of Italy, within sight of the Alps on a clear day, and not overrun with tourists (yet). It has several high profile museums of world class, but also some lesser known ones of interest to lovers of old science and technology.

The Egyptian Museum has a beautifully displayed collection rivalling those in Cairo and London that includes some measuring vessels and cubit rules. The Cinema Museum has a wonderful collection of pre-cinema optical devices like anamorphic mirrors, peeps shows, phantasmagoria, and magic lanterns.

What you will unfortunately not find in the guide books are the fascinating collections held by the University of Turin. https://en.unito.it/galleries/astut-and-other-collections I believe there are others too.

The Physics Department has a lot of instruments in cabinets in its corridors, and a staff member who uses them for didactic purposes. Although the university dates back to 1404, most date from the late nineteenth century, and are related to electricity and magnetism and optics, and they are beautifully displayed with LED lighting.


Not far away, a group of three small museums makes for a memorable visit. See some pictures here. The most charming is the Museum of Fruit, basically a collection of very lifelike wax models of hundreds of different types of apples and pears and other fruit, and also some vegetables too. These were made for teaching and research purposes back in the nineteenth century and are a great reminder of how much biodiversity we are losing. The second is the old anatomy museum, left as a time capsule of objects and display modes. It is not too gory, and the wax models of internal anatomy are pretty interesting if you can’t remember things like where your spleen is.  One quirk is the skeleton of a former director with his brain in a jar alongside. Such is the devotion of directors to their museums. The third is a bit disturbing, featuring a collection of art made by inmates of insane asylums and hundreds of skulls studied by Cesare Lombroso in developing his theory that criminals represent a throwback to a primitive condition. His skeleton is on display too. This is giving me an idea….only joking!

Prof Marco Galloni, an anatomist by trade, is also the scientific director of a remarkable collection, the Archivo Scientifico e Tecnologico Universita di Torino. The name ‘archive’ was carefully chosen to imply that it was a collection not on display, but stored for researchers to trawl through. That said, until recently there were display areas open to the public and school groups. At the moment, the buildings, an enormous old tobacco factory in the suburbs,  have been declared unsafe and a new home is being sought. But I got a personal tour and it was amazing.

The items in the collection are mainly from the twentieth century and cover all areas of science and technology. There are literally stacks of computers (of course), but multiple electron microscopes, a whole operating theatre, the contents of a nineteenth century clockmaker’s workshop, and a pre WW1 x-ray setup. I think the highlight was the complete set of physiological testing apparatus used to screen potential pilots in the first world war- reaction time, ability to withstand accelerations, and even response to low air pressure in an evacuated chamber. In some other archive they found the applicants’ results! Like we did back in the day, they make some money hiring out items as props for movies and have enough furniture and other fittings that they can provide a whole laboratory.