On the northern side of the Piazza del Popolo, part of the Complesso Monumentale di Santa Maria del Popolo, there is a small museum that currently has an exhibition of the machines and inventions of Leonardo da Vinci.
Someone has studied Leonardo’s notebooks and built, from wood, many of the things the great man designed: the helicopter, a glider, instruments to help fly his flying machines such as an artificial horizon. There is a bike for heaven’s sake. This was designed in the 1400’s and it is, for all intents and purposes, a modern day bike complete with a chain and sprockets.
Many of the smaller engineering solutions such as those for transferring the direction of motion and for reducing friction: gears, ratchets, bearings. There is an excavating machine – a fifteenth century JCB.
This exhibition is a joy. I knew nothing about it. So to just find this and wander in off the street was a thrill, and that is understating it. Leonardo da Vinci has always been something of a hero of mine, particularly for his inventions. Okay, so he was also a bit of a painter and knocked off the odd picture, like the Mona Lisa, say. But what an engineer/architect/designer/scientist he was too. Many of his things didn’t quite work because they were about 500 years ahead of materials technology. Imagine what he might have come up with had he been around today. What a guy.
Earlier in the day we had been to St Peter’s. Bit of a disappointment. The piazza was ruined because it was two-thirds filled with barricades and plastic seats, so the sense of space was gone – wrecked.
We also picked a bad day because it was closed the day before and the basilica wasn’t due to open open until one-thirty. The queue went twice round the outside of the piazza. The best entertainment was watching how many brazen, hard-nosed people just bunked in right at the front of the line, and the fights that nearly started as a result. We toyed with using yesterday’s trick of skipping the queue by joining a tour, but this would have set us back nearly a hundred Euro’s for the two of us and, well, we decided to save that until next time we come to Rome.
Because there will be a next time.