Galileo Galilei in Florence

Galileo, the great Italian physicist, astronomer and philosopher born in Pisa, finished his life in Arcetri, a region south of Florence, blind, suffering from insomnia, but ever prolific.

Why did the Church put Galileo under house arrest?

In the late 16th century Galileo Galilei was among a small group of scientists who turned the newly refined telescope to the skies. Earlier elementary magnifying devices had emerged from developments in the science of optics via Roger Bacon and the work of a series of Islamic scientists, in particular Al-Kindi (c. 801–873), Ibn Sahl (c. 940-1000) and Ibn al-Haytham (965–1040). They were generally used for surveying land or for military tactics.

Galileo developed these early optical devices to be more powerful and more accurate, allowing him to track movements of the stars and planets with more accuracy. In 1610, Galileo published his Sidereus Nuncius (Starry Messenger), describing new astronomical observations including those of the Galilean moons of Jupiter. His observations and later observations of the phases of Venus supported the heliocentric theory of Nicolaus Copernicus published in De revolutionibus orbium coelestium in 1543.

Later, in 1632, Galileo published his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, which further defended heliocentrism, and was immensely popular. The popularity of his ideas led to the Roman Inquisition trying Galileo for heresy in 1633. He was forbidden to speak of his beliefs and found "vehemently suspect of heresy"; the Roman authorities sentenced him to house arrest where he remained until his death in 1642.

Read more about Galileo and his conflict with the Catholic Church.

Galileo is tried by the Inquisition for heresy

Image from the Wellcome collection, CC BY 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Spending the last 9 years of his life in Villa il Gioiello under house arrest near what is now an Astrophysical Observatory, he wrote ‘Two New Sciences’, a work that received high praise from Albert Einstein.

Places to visit in Florence linked to Galileo

You can walk past the house where Galileo Galilei was kept under house arrest in Florence. It's on Costa San Giorgio, close to the Ponte Vecchio - but you can't go in. To see more of his life and work, try these three places listed below, starting with the old observatory in Arcetri.

Visit the Florence observatory of Arcetri

In remembrance of Galileo or simply for a unique view of the heavens above, visit the Observatory.

Where: Arcetri Astrophysical Observatory, Largo Enrico Fermi 5, Florence – Tel: +39 055 2752280

When: Group tours are organized for nighttime visits in the week of the first quarter moon at 9 p.m. from April to October for groups of up to 35 people. On Saturday evenings ‘Open Observatory’ visits and requests from individuals or groups of up to 5 people are welcome.

Arcetri Observatory Website

Cost: €7/adult & €4-5/child

The Arcetri Astrophysical Observatory is located near Galileo's home outside Florence

Photo by Sailko, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Museo Galileo in Florence

Additionally, the Museo Galileo, in Piazza dei Giudici along the River Arno, celebrates Galileo's life, scientific achievements and the Renaissance instruments used in his discoveries.

The Museo Galileo is along the River Arno and close to the Uffizi in the heart of Florence.
Museo Galileo in Florence
The Museo Galileo is along the River Arno and close to the Uffizi in the heart of Florence.

Visit Galileo's tomb in Santa Croce

Pay your respects at Galileo Galilei's tomb in the Basilica of Santa Croce.

Now honored in the the Basilica of Santa Croce

Giorgiomantoan, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons