Tempio Voltiano on Lake Como: A Museum for Alessandro Volta

Sun, 09/07/2014 - 03:15
Tempio Voltiano

A ten-minute walk along the shoreline of Lake Como from the cathedral at Piazza Duomo will take you to Viale Guglielmo Marconi where the neoclassical monument and museum Tempio Voltiano (Volta Temple) stands.

Dedicated to the life and work of Alessandro Volta, the Italian physicist responsible for the invention of the modern battery, the museum houses an extensive collection of Volta’s instruments, experimental devices and original paperwork.

Born in Como in 1745, Volta became one of the country’s most respected scientists, so much so that his portrait was used on the front of the 10,000 lire banknote, with the reverse showing an image of Tempio Voltiano.

Many of Volta’s artefacts perished in a fire during the Great Exhibition in Como of 1899 and therefore a new home was needed to house the remaining important pieces of the physicist’s collection.

The Temple was designed and created by Federico Frigerio (1873–1959). It was purposely timed that the building’s completion in 1927 coincided with the 100th anniversary of the scientist's death.

The idea was that the building would echo parts of the Pantheon and be a fitting tribute.  "No style seemed more appropriate than the neoclassical,” wrote Frigerio, “with its manifestations that accompanied the prime of life of Alessandro Volta.”

The core of the Temple is the great circular hall approximately 12 metres in diameter and surmounted by a hemispherical dome and ornate ceiling roses; here are 16 showcases of artefacts, including some of those that were damaged in the fire.

The floor of the central hall is elevated by 2.5 metres to protect the collection against flooding from the nearby Lake Como and to originally provide living space for the caretaker.

The dome is supported by eight marble columns and four further corner pillars and is crowned by a rich entablature frieze in which the dedicatory inscription is written in bronze lettering and, on the main axis, there are four periods of Volta’s life depicted in plaster relief-work.

The mosaic floor, although not particularly ornate, is made up from a selection of onyx, alabaster and rare quality marble and on a warm afternoon gives the room a cool feel.

If you want a break from museums full of paintings and porcelain, the Tempio Voltiano is perfect, as not only does it house an important scientific piece of history, the building itself is a wonder to marvel at and a fitting accolade to one of Como’s famous sons.

Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday, 10:00 am to 12:00 pm and 3:00pm to 6:00 p.m. during summer. During winter the museum’s afternoon opening hours change to 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm. (Closed Mondays). For more information regarding opening times and access, call: (+39) 031 574705.