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Fermo, Villa Vitali Science Museum Complex




Just outside the walls of the city of Fermo stands the compact Villa Vitali, built in 1827 and restored in 1854 following designs by the architect Gaetano Manfredi. The villa also has a chapel, built by order of Barnaba Vitali and frescoed between 1907 and 1908 by the master Giuseppe Felici who depicted the Stories of the Life of Saint Francis of Paola. At the bottom of the garden stands a fascinating neo-Gothic loggia which almost certainly was built in 1860 to perform the functions of a pergola completely lined by luxuriant climbing plants. When the villa was bought by the Fermo City Council, it became an original and exclusive Science Museum Complex which was established and organized with passion to house the large “Silvio Zavatti” Ethnographic Polar Museum, the “Tommaso Salvadori” Natural Science Museum, the “Alfredo Matacotta Cordella” Photographic Equipment Museum, the “Nicola Rizzi” Pipe Museum and a recent space created to house the stony meteorite which fell in a field near Fermo in 1996.

The Polar Museum is the third-largest in the world concerned with the Arctic from a geo-morphological point of view. It is also one of the few capable of showing the ethnic and anthropological features of the populations that lived there at the time of Silvio Zavatti's explorations. Consisting of six exhibition rooms, the museum, which offers an interesting and never predictable visit, starts from a reconstruction of the camp of the Duke of the Abruzzi, who in 1899 organized the first Italian expedition to the North Pole. The room also contains exhibits connected with the airship Norge with which General Umberto Nobile made trans-polar flights between 1926 and 1928. The visit proceeds along the second room which not only offers a chance to watch the video Silvio Zavatti in Eastern Greenland, but also houses in special cabinets a large ethnographic collection, bringing together objects accumulated during Zavatti's expeditions and artefacts donated to the museum by various collectors and explorers. While the third room illustrates scientific research currently in progress in the polar field, the fourth shows the curious craft products collected during his innumerable voyages by Jean Malaurie, the explorer with the greatest knowledge of the Inuit culture. The visit comes to an end with the fifth and sixth rooms, which exhibit a number of drawings of Inuit children of Isertoq, interesting photos taken in the village of Tasilaq, in Eastern Greenland, and the varied polar collection of Lino Brillarelli, a faithful friend of Silvio Zavatti.

The “Tommaso Salvadori” Natural Science Museum houses more than 500 specimens of Italian birds, collected by one of the greatest ornithologists of the 19th century. The first room is intended to introduce the visitor to Tommaso Salvadori's enthusiasm through a brief biographical presentation which also explains the scientific context in which he operated. The second and third rooms house specimens of the ornithological collection accumulated mainly during his youth and still conserved in the original cases. The fourth, finally, shows the geo-morphological environment of the Marche during the period in which Salvadori carried out his studies, accompanied by an explanation with some specimens present in the area.

The “Alfredo Matacotta Cordella” Photographic Equipment Museum is housed in the Oval Room of Villa Vitali and counts approximately 166 items including camera bodies, exposure meters, lenses, filters and film cameras. There are approximately 173 books including guidebooks, manuals and catalogues on the history of photography. The entire collection was donated to the Fermo Science Museums by Alfredo Matacotta Cordella. His enormous collection is fascinating, offering the opportunity to observe and understand the evolution of photography. Starting from the first decades of the 20th century with a camera such as the Zeiss Ikon Ikonette bellows camera, through the Sixties with a Rolleiflex T and up to the Nineties with a professional camera of the calibre of the Hasselblad 6x6.

The “Nicola Rizzi” Pipe Museum, inaugurated in 2005 and set up by the Pipa Cigar Club di Fermo, is the first Italian museum on the subject of this tool of ancient origins. The large exhibition room houses more than 1000 specimens, mostly from the collection of the champion of “slow smoke” Nicola Rizzi. The remaining pipes were donated by other collectors. As well as Toni Pascual's magnificent pre-Colombian items, we can admire those of the well-known journalist Mario Azzella, one of the President of the Republic Sandro Pertini, one of the journalist Alessandro Curzi and the foam pipe with a silver lid and ring attributed to Giuseppe Garibaldi.

A small room is reserved for the stony meteorite “Fermo”, which fell in 1996 in the countryside near Fermo. In an environment which reproduces the immensity of space, this rare exemplar of a meteorite is conserved on a pedestal and accompanied by an exhaustive explanation panel.


  1. The counts Salvadori-Paleotti, originally from Albania, were often recorded in the chronicles of the end of the 19th century for the reclamation work that they carried out in Porto San Giorgio starting in 1786 with Luigi senior, vice-consul for France. Called upon to study an effective system to prevent the hills from suffering sea erosion, Salvadori-Paleotti thought of very frequent irrigation and even dam construction, because the beach was advancing very quickly, on average one metre per year. He thought of holding onto the land by making arable the areas subtracted from erosion. However this long and complex process was tackled mainly by the sons of Luigi senior, after his death in 1805. Whilst Melchiorre and Tommaso carried on the projects proposed by their father, the real miracle occurred with Luigi junior who in a very short period of time, between 1842 and 1849, managed to complete the agrarian reclamation and transform these fundamentally sterile dunes into land fertile enough to enable ordinary cultivation.


  1. It was 5.30 p.m. on 25 September 1996 when a stony meteorite of dimensions 19x24x16 cm fell in Contrada Santa Petronilla, near the city of Fermo. The impact was felt by only one person and the meteorite was found two days later by Giuseppe Santarelli who came across a crater approximately 40 cm deep and with a diameter of 30 cm. The find was made in quite a short time since the oxidation process had not yet occurred, so when some fragments were taken from a splintered part to carry out an analysis, it could be stated with certainty that this was an unaltered chondritic meteorite. It was thus classified because of the presence of chondrules, that is droplets of silicate material which have undergone first a rapid fusion process, then a partial recrystallization owing to sudden cooling. The Fermo meteorite is considered by experts to be a very rare example, on account both of its weight, which is approximately 10 kg, and of the fact that it did not break up on contact with the atmosphere.