Rome, Specola

The Specola of Rome - now the Vatican Observatory - is one of the oldest astronomical institutes in the world.

Papal interest in astronomy can be traced to Pope Gregory XIII who had the Tower of the Winds built in the Vatican in 1578 and later called on Jesuit astronomers and mathematicians to study the scientific data and implications involved in the reform of the calendar which occurred in 1582. From that time and with some degree of continuity the Holy See has manifested an interest in and support for astronomical research. 

In the 18th century, the Papacy actively supported astronomy, establishing the Observatory of the Roman College in 1774. In 1789–1787, the Specola Vaticana in the Tower of the Winds within the Vatican was established under the direction of Msgr. Filippo Luigi Gilii (1756–1821). When Msgr. Gilii died, the Specola was closed down, as inconvenient to students in the city, and with the dome of St. Peter's obstructing its view. Its instruments were transferred to the College Observatory. A third facility, the Observatory of the Capitol, was operated from 1827 to 1870.

Father Angelo Secchi - the first to classify stars according to their spectra - relocated the College Observatory to the top of Sant'Ignazio di Loyola a Campo Marzio (Church of St. Ignatius in Rome). In 1870, with the capture of Rome, the College Observatory fell into the hands of the Italian Government. Out of respect for his work, however, Father Secchi was permitted to continue using the Observatory. After Secchi's death in 1878, the Observatory was nationalized by the Italian government and renamed the Regio Osservatorio al Collegio Romano ("Royal Observatory at the Roman College").

A commemorating medal was issued in 1978 - at the centenary of Secchi's death - for the 13th Philatelic and Numismatic convention in Reggio Emilia, a city in northern Italy, the hometown of Secchi. The obverse of the 31.6 mm diameter and 12 gram weight bronze medal shows half-right facing portrait of Father Secchi, with his name, birth and death years in legend. The medalist was Luigi Teruggi, whose name can be discovered below the shoulder.

Rome 1 reverseRome 1 obverse

The reverse shows the interior of the Scpecola, with the telescope and the opened slit of the dome. Legendr around is: XIII. CONVEGNIO FILATELICO NUMISMATICO "CITTA' DEL TRICOLORE", refers to the event. Below the name and coats of arms of the city of Reggio Emilia is visible along with the date of issue 30th September 1978.