Father Eugenio Barsanti’s native City
Even if he only passed a brief period of his life in Pietrasanta after his birth, Father Barsanti always kept tight bonds with the city and his family, so much so, that he celebrated his first Mass “the last Sunday of September in 1845”.
The city returned his devotion and attachment by showing majesty during his funeral celebrations on June 10 1864 in St. Augustine Church with the presence of the City Hall Administration and the National Guard, for the celebrations organized in 1921 for the centennial of his birth, and annually from 1927 to 1933 in order to claim and publicize the invention as first among all others.
Already in 1933, the City Administration had named a street for Father Eugenio Barsanti.
After World War II (1954) an exhibition on the internal combustion engine for its first centennial (1853 – 1954) was organized by the city of Pietrasanta with the legal aid of Fiat and the National Museum of the Automobile.
“At the age of six – Niccolo’ Barsanti (today known as Father Eugenio Barsanti) – passed the threshold ….” of the Piarist School, Scuole Pie, where he had attended classes until the age of seventeen when he graduated. The schools had been opened in 1819 for Ferdinando III of Lorena’s will in the complex of the ex-convent of St. Augustine and run by the Piarists.
St. Augustine Church
which was originally gothic, is tied to some important moments of Father Barsanti’s life: he celebrated his first mass after being ordained priest here, and most of all, on June 10 1864, “a great number of people reunited here to pay tribute to the memory of their friend and fellow-citizen.” In 1933, a commemorative bust, sculptured by Leone Tomasi, was placed in St. Augustine Church. The bust was moved to the scientist’s tomb in Santa Croce in Florence and substituted by a copy.
Barsanti moved to Volterra in 1841 to study physics and mathematics at St. Michael’s College. The institute was attended by “students from all over Italy; students of humble and noble origin…”: among these, a particular mention is for Giovanni Mastai – Ferretti, who became Archbishop of Imola and then Pope under the name Pio IX.
Father Barsanti dedicated himself to teaching physics with so much passion and enthusiasm that his students were fascinated: “he tested and tested again and when he didn’t have the scientific instruments necessary, he would try to make them himself”.
In the spring of 1843, the “little schoolmaster”, as his students called him, came into the classroom holding a container with a long neck, on which was placed a brass rod and two small spheres. The instrument built by Barsanti himself to reproduce a Volta Pistol, was then filled with hydrogen and air and sealed with a cork.
The “little schoolmaster” then caused an electrical spark and a tremendous explosion shot the cork up to the ceiling. Here the idea to transform a natural explosion of an inflammable mixture in work force was born. This force was regulated and tranformed in useful work and would have relieved Man’s toil. The prototype, once kept at “Inghirami” School at Volterra, is now in the art gallery of Volterra.
Felice Matteucci’s Native City
Felice Matteucci was born in Lucca, in Piazza Del Giglio, in a thirteenth century mansion now known as Palazzo Arnolfini and which the Franciotti family first owned. The mansion has undergone consistent remakings in the XVII and XX centuries. He was baptized in Santa Maria Rotonda, a small church inside the ducal palace when his father was Minister of Justice of Granduke Felice Baciocchi.
Felice Matteucci demonstrated, in his younger years, a great enthusiasm and devotion in his studies; attended the University of Lucca (1823 – 1824), now seat of Macchiavelli Classical High School, after passing his exams in mathematics and rhetoric and attending geometry classes. He continued his studies in engineering at the Royal Bourbon College in Paris and finished in Florence when he graduated.
Matteucci’s life is not very close to his native city, due to the fact that ho moved to Paris with his father at the age of sixteen (1824), completed his studies (in Hydraulics and Mechanics) at Florence and later lived in his “country house” at Colle di Compito, then at Vorno, where he dedicated himself to the project of the Lake of Sesto draining.
The city and the institutions discovered Matteucci’s role and importance in the invention of the internal combustion engine only in the past few years; beforehand, the only commemorative initiatives were a tablet set in 1932 on the house he was born in Piazza del Giglio, a tablet set in the hall of the Villa of Vorno during the celebrations of the centennial of the invention of the internal combustion engine (1954) and a ceremony done in Villa Bottini, for the centennial of his death.
“Country House” of Colle di Compito
Felice Matteucci’s residence during his younger years: from here he observed the movement of the water on the lake and drew up a project for its and the Bientina marshland draining at only twenty seven years of age.
This project, without a shadow of a doubt, was his most diligent and expert work in hydraulics. Matteucci was very fond of his work like a “sweet childhood dream.” He often returned to this villa in order to find serenity after his grand delusions. The villa has undergone many great transformations since then, today it is unrecognizable, and can be found among the houses in Colle di Compito.
“Country House” at Vorno
Situated in a vast enclosure, the villa is characterized by a quite singular lay-out because it is perpendicular to the boundary wall, which surround it and eccentric to the approaching road. The villa was constructed during the XVII – XVIII centuries, which can be denoted in its form and dimension of the stone doors and window borders: Of particular interest is the garden that is organized according to traditional geometric designs and a small seventeenth century chapel dedicate to SS. Anna and Simeone.
Matteucci’s family bought the villa at the beginning of the eighteenth century. Here Matteucci passed many sad moments due to the problems whith the construction of the engine and the costitution of the Society that was supposed to guarantee its diffusion and development.
The fact that the invention had not been attributed to him caused a serious nervous breakdown: oversights, reticence, silences, wrong assertions and plagiarism induced him to return to his hydraulic studies; the Bientina marshland and the internal combustion engine disturbed his mind for over five years, five years of pangs, which were even more painful due to his deafness that prevented communication.
He could feel his life ebb away but he was aware of his state, so much so that it is said that in moments of great dismay he “asked his servants to end his life.” Not even the fresh air nor the tranquil stay at his country house in Vorno where the first detonations of the engine were heard, nor the love of his dear one could help him get better. He died on September 13 1887. The funeral was celebrated in the church of Vorno the next day; his mortal remains were moved to Campi Bisenzio and deposited in the family cappella were they still remain.
The two inventors studied, did research and tests on the internal combustion engine at Florence.
The Piarist, The Scuole Pie, The Ximenian Observatory
When Niccolò Barsanti decided to become a Piarist, he left Pietrasanta in July 17 1838 and went to Florence, where he started his novitiate in the Order. The Domus Formationis of the piarists was situated in Via Bologna, in the locality Il Pellegrino (an antique part of the city, called this way because there was a hospice, that would host pilgrims that were coming from Bologna: all the area was called Altopascio di Montughi). The Hospice was run by a group of religious men called Comunità del Pellegrino. In 1638 the Piarists entered the building and used it for their novitiates until 1870. The novitiate period was two years. Next to the building one can find the church which is the only pure Baroque one in the city. Actually, the church is owned by the city, but it is still run by the Piarists.
When Barsanti finished his novitiate, he continued his preparation at St. Giovannino, also called Piarist’s House, at Florence. The complex was built by Jesuits towards the end of the 1500’s. Two centuries later, in 1756, the Jesuit Leonardo Ximenes built a modest astronomical observatory on top of the building. The building was then bought by the Piarists. The Domus Formationis of the Piarists and the Scuole Pie were then transferred to Via de’ Cimatori, called nowadays, Via Martelli.
In Septemper of 1841, Barsanti was sent to St. Micheal’s college in Volterra; here he taught mathematics and physics and, as we well know, got the idea for the internal combustion engine. In 1849 he returned to Florence at St. Giovannino where he was given the teaching post of mathematics and physics. Giosuè Carducci was also among his students. In 1852, he was nominate lector for mechanics and hydraulics at the Ximenian Observatory. This prestigious Florentine institution was founded at the death of Leonardo Ximenes (the Jesuit priest which had remained with the Piarists after his order had been suppressed in 1775). The Piarists gave hospitility to Ximenes, who continued his scientific studies for some years, until his death in 1786. Ximenes gave the Piarists, out of gratitude, all the books in his library, the observatory and his intruments The scientific activities of the Florentine Piarists from the 1700’s to now, originated from this heredity and is tied to that observatory that was renamed Ximenian While the Ximenian Observatory never changed places, the Scuole Pie moved to via del Corso in 1878 and its actual seat in Via Cavour 94 from 1920. Barsanti matured his idea of the internal combustion engine in the Ximenian Observatory. His researches were encouraged by Fathers Antonelli and Cecchi, two remarkable scientists, that were experts in applied mechanics. The first was the director of Observatory and an expert in projecting roadways. The second one was an expert in meteorology and sismology. In this place, Barsanti started to collaborate with Felice Matteucci, who came often to the Observatory in that period. And this is how the adventure of the internal combustion engine started; after the first tests the duo presented a memoir at the Georgofili Academy, which described their experiments.
Since its founding on June 4 1753, the Georgofili Academy (from Greek “lovers of the earth”) became a very prestigious and important scientific Institution. It was founded by Ubaldo Montelatici, a lateran priest, in order to have continuous and regulated experiences and observations, to conduce and improve the art that is so richly cultivated in Tuscany. From 1802 to 1932 the seat of the Academy was on Via Ricasoli. After 1932 it moved to the antique tower “dei Pulci”, whose entrance is in the Loggiato of the Uffizi Corti.
Maria Antonia Railway Station
From what we know, the first direct action engines were constructed by the Benini Foundry in Florence (actually Nuovo Pignone) situated near St. Frediano gate. The second engine, bi-cylindric, was used in 1856 in the Maria Antonia Railway Station, inaugurated on 1851 after the railroad line Florence-Prato-Pistoia had been completed. It was demolished to permit the construction of the actual railroad station S. Maria Novella. The motor worked regularly and operated a drill and a cutter
Anonymous Society of the New Barsanti and Matteucci Engine
In order to get financial aid for the realization of their engines, Barsanti and Matteucci founded an Association that became a company on October 14 1859, so they could legally use their projects. The company took the name Anonymous company of the New Barsanti and Matteucci Engine and was situated in Via S. Agostino, on the other side of the River Arno, at the end of Piazza S. Spirito, on the right near Via de’ Serragli. The laboratory where the engines were put together and tested was situated in Canto de’ Nelli, on the right of St. Lorenzo church (very near the Observatory).
Leopolda Railway Station at Porta a Prato
On November 2 1861, fourteen boxes arrived at Livorno.They contained a “new” direct action engine realized by the Escher Wyss Workshop of Zurich and based on Barsanti, Mattucci and Babacci’s project. The engine was going to go to the 1° Italian Exposition of Arts and Manufactures in Florence in 1861. For the occasion, the old railway station Leopolda at Porta a Prato was fixed up so the Expo could take place in its grand rooms. One of the crafts on exhibit was the internal combustion engine built by Escher Wyss. Actually, the station is still used for exhibitions and shows.
Villa Alla Marina – Campi Bisenzio
One of Felice Matteucci’s Florentine residences after his marriage to Giulia Romirez de Montalvo.
The villa is mentioned for the first time in a charter dated 2 June 1305 and belonged to the Tornaquinci family; subsequently it became the property of the Del Sodo, then the Spinelli and finally, at the beginning of the 16th century, the Medici. In 1570, Antonio de Montalvo, on the advice of Cosimo de ‘Medici, bought the villa and for over three centuries the Montalvo family called the Campi property “their countryside”.
We do not know how much time the Matteucci family actually spent here, given Felice’s many commitments: at the Villa Montalvo, the couple left, as usual, the inscription of their names on the columns of the farm’s internal courtyard. In the villa, “men of science, physicists, mathematicians and teachers of mechanics and hydraulics alternate in the study of the young Lucca engineer, such as the young Father Scolopio Eugenio Barsanti, with whom Felice Matteucci has already established a strong collaboration.”
The Municipal Administration of Campi Bisenzio recently purchased and restored the villa, in honor and memory of the illustrious citizen, former city councilor between 1865 and 1875, after whom the middle school and a street are named.