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Villa Griffone

When in the spring of 1945, air raids and shellfire finally ceased – preluding the advance of the allies towards the Po valley – the environs of Bologna appeared as nothing more than deserted and scorched earth. Those who first made their way out of the city, taking the via Porrettana, found a boundless pile of rubble and, upon reaching Pontecchio, could but ascertain with sadness that also Guglielmo Marconi's tomb and house had not escaped the terrible catastrophe. Subsequent waves of homeless people took refuge there and lastly so called civilians completed the destruction and pillage, leaving no trace of heirlooms or furniture in that which had once been the elegant and welcoming country house of the Marconi family. The visitors who traveled along the via Porrettana and stopped to pay homage to the great scientist, witnessed the bitter state of abandonment of the Marconian site at the end of the war.

Marconi's paternal home – named “Griffone” after Margherita Laurenti Torri Griffoni, owner from 1672 to 1730 – was donated by relatives, upon the death of the scientist, to the Guglielmo Marconi Foundation which had been established to preserve the historical records and scientific achievements of the great Bolognese. Marconi's remains were to be transferred to the place where he had spent his childhood and his youth «conducting those experiments» which gave that unexpected impulse to the study of radiocommunications. The Mausoleum, designed by the architect Piacentini, thus came to rise at the foot of the hill, on which the villa stands and where, since 1941, the scientist rests in a sarcophagus made of porphyry. Unfortunately, the Mausoleum was also hit by numerous bombs of medium caliber that perforated the vault in various points, causing severe water infiltrations which were not repaired until 1946 when the structure was finally examined and the roofing restored. The large villa suffered severe damages as well, culminating in the total collapse of the west wing.

At the end of the war the villa was in a critical state of deterioration and it became imperative to intervene as soon as possible to avoid other areas from collapsing. Thus the renovation of the principal structures began, moreover with the precise and binding intention to restore the building to its original state, i.e. to the time when Marconi lived there and conducted his first historical experiments. These works took many years to complete due to the scarce funds of the Foundation and the many complications encountered during the restoration.

We owe it to the passion and engagement of Mr Mario Baldini and MP Mr Raimondo Manzini first and then of MP Mr Giovanni Elkan if, among hundreds of difficulties and a chronic lack of funds, it was possible to return Villa Griffone to its original splendor and the Marconi Foundation to a new life. The official date of the Foundation’s revival can be considered the 3rd October 1965. On that date, while celebrating the "Marconi day", the Great Hall, which was the former old barn of the villa, was inaugurated. A short time after that, the Marconi Foundation started important cooperation agreements with the University of Bologna and with the Ugo Bordoni Foundation, thus originating the Centro Onde Millimetriche (Centre for the Study of Millimetric Waves).

1974 marked the centenary of Guglielmo Marconi’s birth; this year, both the government’s institutions and the public opinion rediscovered an interest in the great Italian scientist. The Foundation received public subsidies, but credit must be given to the Rotary Clubs of Bologna for their active effort to keep the memory of their fellow citizen and member alive. Having little interest in celebrating the event in a purely superficial manner, they decided to aim at concrete realizations in favor of the local community. So they set up and furnished the library on the ground floor of Villa Griffone. The library also hosted a beautiful glass display case with a collection of replicas of Marconi’s equipment. This small display can be considered the first core of the Marconi Museum. At last, after 40 years, Villa Griffone was hosting again equipment that recalled Marconi’s work.

The years went by and the Marconi Foundation had become a world-famous research institution that, under the direction of Mr Gian Carlo Corazza, coordinated cutting-edge projects in several fields of radio communications, namely in the field of mobile communications. The museum’s collection, though, was confined in that small library’s glass display case, and the Foundation was not able to bring a regular flow of visitors to Villa Griffone. Visits were limited to a few hundred people a year, mostly students from the Bologna area.

The first turning point took place in the mid 1980s, when the Bologna City Hall decided to invest its resources and competencies in the promotion and dissemination of scientific culture. Looking for a local partner, the city administration thought it would be a good thing to refer to the University of Bologna, a breeding ground of knowledge par excellence, and to the Marconi Foundation, which merged the great scientific competencies of a research centre and the appeal of the pioneering work of the Bolognese genius. This was the starting point of a collaboration which is perhaps the sole example of cultural joint-venture in Italy, and the Foundation joined with a team directed by Mr Gabriele Falciasecca, who would head the whole project. Thus the Energy exhibition came into being, followed shortly after by Information and Science or Magic?, which was first presented at Rovereto in 1988, and then successfully repeated in Bologna in 1991. The sub-heading If I understand it is science, if I don’t understand it is magic summarizes the approach on which that experience was based: to get the visitors involved in the wonder of nature and allow them to enjoy the technological innovations in the easiest and most direct way, i.e. through play. This is the reason why, together with the most sophisticated methods offered by technology, the museum steadily resorts to everyday technology, in order to let even the most distracted visitors discover their own scientific skills.

A number of Italian cities like Florence, Naples, and Rimini hosted different versions of various exhibitions, all of them successful. In 1995 the centenary of the invention of the radio presented an opportunity to create Science or Magic?, the official brand grouping the three institutions involved in the project; the number of exhibitions thus increased notably. Bologna hosted Radio: from Marconi to the music of the stars, an exhibition then replicated in Ireland and New York with the name of Wireless Revolution. The extraordinary experience of Science or Magic? generated a huge wealth of competencies, experiences and projects in the field of promoting scientific culture and awareness. That was the start for the Foundation to trace its own way autonomously.

As we said before, 1995 was the centenary of the invention of the radio. The Marconi Foundation, together with a specially established national committee, coordinated a very wide program of celebrations subsidized by the State by means of a specific law.

This financial backing allowed the Marconi Foundation to acquire the collections which still represent the framework of both the Marconi Museum and the Historical Documentation Centre of Villa Griffone. The first one is the Bigazzi collection, an exceptional ensemble of working replicas of the instruments that have made history in radiotelegraphy; the second is the Soresini collection, a wide collection of monographic essays, photographs, documents and autographs on the history of radio communications. At that point, at Villa Griffone there was sufficient material to set up a proper museum and the project managers started to implement a renovation plan with the purpose of redesigning the space inside the building so as to make room for the coming exhibition.

They decided to convert a part of the last floor into an exhibition area, using those very rooms where Marconi had set up his first laboratory. Thanks once more to the funding by the Bolognese Rotary Clubs, the team was able to start the reconstruction of the "silkworms’ room", the laboratory that young Guglielmo had equipped in the attic and where his father used to breed silkworms. The reconstruction engaged the Foundation’s researchers for over a year, but the results were exciting. Thanks to exclusive use of period materials and technology, to in-depth research on witnesses and written sources (in this regard the recovery in Rome of Marconi’s notebooks was of paramount importance) and to iconographic studies it was possible to organize a truly accurate replica of Marconi’s laboratory. Entering the room is like traveling back in time – the magic is such that the visitor may expect young Guglielmo to turn up and carry out mysterious experiments. The "silkworms’ room" was officially opened during the Marconi Day on 25th April 1996.

In the following years, under the direction of Mr Gabriele Falciasecca, the team finished reorganizing the areas around the laboratory, this time thanks to the financial backing of Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio in Bologna. To renovate these areas, the team used materials resulting from the experience gained with Science or magic?, but it also created new interactive exhibits, always in line with the hands-on philosophy and with the idea of a strong interaction between the visitor and the displayed object. At the same time, the display hall in the historic library was extended by inserting a number of period instruments and it thus became the first hall along the tour. On 29th September 1999, the inauguration of the new Marconi Museum took place at Villa Griffone, fully crowded for the occasion.

Today the Marconi Museum is visited by thousands of people every year, but the demand for visits is by far higher than the accommodation capacity of the villa, which is inevitably limited by the need to keep the numerous activities of the Foundation balanced.

More than fifteen years after the opening, the Marconi Museum has kept intact its unique features compared to the wide range of scientific museums elsewhere. In fact, it is perhaps the sole museum in the world that combines the most modern methods of spreading knowledge with the endless fascination of the place which witnessed the most extraordinary invention of our age: wireless communication.

 

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David Sarnoffsarnoff

Marconi was the creator of the present day civilization of the radio. All of those who, with spirit of initiative and perseverance, have brought us to the present stage of development have built on the foundations laid by Marconi. Everyone considered him the tutelary genius of their work.

 



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© 2013 - Fondazione Guglielmo Marconi - Villa Griffone - via Celestini 1 - 40037 Pontecchio Marconi (BO) - C.F 80063250379

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