abstract: Description of the Italian geographic society Library
The old mansion is called “Palazzetto Mattei”. It passes unnoticed between the trees of Villa Celimontana Park. Just outside the park there are Coliseum, Imperial Fora, Circus Maximus, and all the wonders of Rome’s city center.
Palazzetto Mattei cannot compete with them. It looks as a modest lady, sitting quietly between princesses that show off gowns and jewels to decide who is the fairest of them all. But sometimes beauty does not like to shout, and the true nature of a place calls for a special sight to be unveiled and, as with people, often the best is behind the face, behind the door.
Broad, dark, old tables marked by moths, strong furnitures as it used to be, frescoed ceilings, spacious and elegant rooms, windows overlooking to the lush vegetation of a Mediterranean garden, and high walls completely covered by shelves and shelves of wonders within the reach of your hands.
Over a million of documents about geography and traveling gathered along 150 years of intense activity that make of the Italian Geographic Society Library a paradise for all travel writers and readers.
The collection of the Italian Geographic Society Library
400.000 volumes, in French, English, Italian, Greek, Russian. Several thousands rare documents published between XVI and XIX century. Manuscript records of travel. More than 2000 journals published in the last two centuries. A map collection of 200.000 pieces and 200 ancient and rare maps from XV to XIX century.
All is within the reach of your hands, because here touching is not forbidden but welcomed. Except for the oldest maps and some rare volumes, most of the documents are available to everybody. All you need is your ID and fill a form.
Browse the old card catalog written by hand with diligent calligraphy of yesteryear, or consult the digital database, or wander with your eyes on the shelves. The Italian Geographic society Library is a never-ending mine of travel inspirations, tales, informations, seductions.
There are many ways to please your mind. I start with a National Geographic Magazine dated back to February 1902 (it costed 25 cents), reading about a trip through Siberia by Ebenezer J. Hill.
Then I am seduced by the green land of Scotland, and I spot what the Scottish Geographical Journal was discussing in 1885 as I would do with a 2017 blog.
How changed the perception of the world over the time? Beginning from my home-land (Italy) and passing by Africa, China, Japan, America, maps by maps I discover how the world looked to our travelers ancestors.
I come back the to reading room with a book published in 1782. It smells of mold, the page are thick and rough. I can feel the mark of the letters left on the paper by the mechanic press in a sort of unwanted Braille. The book is a report of two English gentlemen who went to Canary Island. They swear to God that the “Guanci people” were so agile to come down from the mountain jumping from rock to rock, and that they could eat as much as 20 rabbits and 1 goat in one meal.
In 1880 an Italian traveler was bewitched by the smells of Abyssinia, spices and moss the sellers used to burn to catch visitors: “… at night everything die. People abandon the city as spirits running to the night. They silently make their way to the villages where the air is fresher and sleep is sweeter”.
1880, Africa again. Two of the traveler died, as half of the animal they had. Of the survivors nobody will go on, but through separate ways they will make the journey back home.
1913, India. The Italian expedition attended to a Buddhist symbolic dance
And African warriors, wild animals, rituals, sacrifices, rivers, forgotten temples, ices, mountains, forests, people and cities that time denies. They belong to a past age, when the world was bigger, people slower, the journey harder, and there were still blank spaces on the world map.
I put back all the books and I walk between the rooms of the Library. For over 150 years, with passion, devotion, and the same patience of an amanuensis, the members of the Italian Society of Geography gathered here an invaluable treasure: the memory of all those came before us, travelers pushed by a pure desire of knowledge, stronger than any greed.
The Italian Geographic Society Library is capable to break time and distances and teach us, once more, the higher values of traveling. It is not a mere library, it is a Sanctuary, a Paradise for all travel writers and lovers in the heart of Rome.
Brief History of the Geographic society and particularly of the Italian Geographic Society
Geographic societies are private associations established especially during 19th century and the beginning of 20th. They were created to promote studies and research in Geography and related topics, with special regards to exploration. The “Société de Géographie de Paris (1821)” is considered the oldest geographic society, although some Italian academies (Accademia degli Argonauti, 1684 and Accademia dei Georgofili, 1753) and the so-called British African Association (1788) are regarded as important ancestors.
Such societies sprang up all over the world but especially in Europe. They amounted to more than 300 at the end of the 19th century. Several of them are still active, and have a high scientific relevance.
The Geographic Societies played a fundamental role in renewing and promoting the study of geography, modernize and promote the cartographic production, exchanging knowledge on international basis, guiding and implementing systematic exploration of areas discovered to the west due of the colonization. Often they have been the first protagonist of cultural contacts.
The Italian Geographic Society was founded in Florence (at that time capital city of Italy) in 1867. It moved to Rome in 1872 where it is still based. From 1868 It publishes its own journal “Bollettino della Società Geografica Italiana” together with other publishing initiatives.
In 1869, the Italian Geographic Society organized the first Italian expedition in Africa. It was a mission to Eritrea leaded by Orazio Antinori. 1875 took place the expedition to Tunisia, and the year after to Ethiopia. Date to 1878 expeditions to Lake Victoria, Morocco, and North-east Passage. During the next years the expedition went more numerous and frequent reaching Asia and America.
In the twentieth century the Society abandoned the direct exploration, and focused its activity on Italian migration abroad and on systematic study of Italian territory, with a special attention to hydro geological problems and earthquakes. The Society was active in education promoting systematic research to modernize the teaching of geography in schools.
Nowadays the Society it is internationally regarded as an outstanding institution of Geography and related studies. It is still wonderfully alive both in research and education. Every year the Society run a “Festival of travel writing”.
Palazzo Mattei, home of the Italian Geographic Society Library
The home of the Society is the beautiful “Palazzetto Mattei” in Villa Celimontana, Rome, 900 meters from Coliseum. The palace and the garden, formerly a vineyard, date back to 1580, and were based on a project of Jacopo Del Duca, a student of Michelangelo. Both the Garden and the Palazzetto Mattei undergone several modifications till they get the present shape.
Official website of the Italian Geographic Society , where you can find contacts, direction, time schedule and any practice info you would need.