The ancient Torlonga of the Carrarese Castle called “La Specola” in Padua
La Specola is one of the most representative symbols of the city and its history: the high tower recalls the tyranny of Ezzelino III da Romano who in 1242 had built a castle with two towers, the largest of which, as the chronicles of the time narrate, it was the place where the tyrant kept locked up and tortured his prisoners
The successive lords of Padua, the Carrara, in 1374 built a new castle-fortification on the remains of the old as a defensive bulwark and splendid building decorated inside and outside.
On 21 May 1761 the Senate of the Republic of Venice issued a decree establishing an astronomical observatory at the University of Padua, to be used as a training ground for future astronomers.
Only four years later, in September 1765, was entrusted to the professor of astronomy, geography and meteore, Abbot Giuseppe Toaldo (1719-1797), to visit the main Italian observatories to inquire about the structure of the building and the main tools necessary for the astronomer’s activity.
Upon returning from this investigation, Toaldo, after presenting the project, in December of the same year he had the architect Don Domenico Cerato (1715-1792) come from Vicenza, a friend and fellow student in the Episcopal Seminary of Padua and one of the most skilled architects of the time.
Toaldo proposed to use the high tower of the Castel Vecchio for its large and solid walls and for its location within the city, ideal for astronomical observation. In particular, the Tower was suitable because it allowed an excellent observation to the south, or rather to the celestial meridian, a crucial point for the study of the motion of the stars.
And so it was that, after ten years of work, in 1777 the Tower became an astronomical observatory, or “astronomical specula” according to the Latin word.
The interior of the tower was renovated for the use of astronomical observations and was divided into two parts: a lower part, 16 meters above the ground on the east wall, where the Meridian Room was built for observations on the celestial meridian, and a upper part, 35 meters from the ground in the area of the battlements, where a high room with high windows was set up, the Sala delle Figure, to observe the celestial vault from every angle with various types of telescopes also using the adjacent terrace.
A terrace was also built above the meridian hall for meteorology studies.
Later, the Specola underwent modernization both of the instrumentation and of the structure, such as the addition of a third dome in the nineteenth century or the construction of a new pavilion on the adjacent bastion to house the Mertz refractor.
The ancient registers of astronomical observations and the library are still preserved in the historical archives of the Observatory.
The new specola, one of the most beautiful in eighteenth-century Europe, was visited by illustrious figures, such as the German poet and playwright Johann Wolfgang Goethe, who in 1786 described in his travel diary the splendid panorama that he could admire from the top of the tower Observatory. (Padovanet)