The Italian Almanac

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young Charles Darwin

Darwin in Rome

Rome will be marking 200 years to the day since the birth of Charles Darwin with the inauguration of Italy`s largest ever exhibition devoted to the life and work of the English naturalist. The show, which enjoyed a hit run at New York`s American Museum of Natural History, also commemorates 150 years since the publication of his landmark theory of evolution in On the Origin Of Species.

The exhibition seeks not only to explore and explain Darwin`s theory but also to guide visitors through the early discoveries and various stages of his research. It looks at the fears and uncertainties that caused Darwin to delay publication of his ideas for two decades and the hostility that greeted his theory at the time and which still simmers today. The exhibition offers reconstructions, taxidermy specimens, geological scenarios, fossils of extinct animals and other specimens he gathered during his travels, all of which played a crucial role in shaping his ideas.

One particular attraction for younger visitors will be examples of live animals that Darwin collected while away, such as tortoises, iguanas and frogs. It also contains manuscripts, letters and notes written by Darwin as a young man, reflecting his experiments on plants and animals in the countryside of Kent, southeast England, where he grew up. Other writings include the first notebooks he wrote after returning from his travels, which remained hidden for decades after his death and were only recently published.

There are several sections devoted to Darwin`s critical five-year voyage aboard the Beagle. The Italian version of the exhibit also includes material not shown in its other incarnations, in New York, Toronto, Boston and London. There is an in-depth study of how Darwin is viewed in Italy, the impact of Italian geology on his studies and Darwin`s ties to Italian scientists. Another addition to the exhibition is a section on human evolution and modern evolutionary theory, one of several adaptations for the Italian market by the show`s two curators, themselves well-known scientists, Niles Eldredge and Ian Tattersall.

The exhibition is on display in the newly restored Palazzo degli Esposizioni until May 3, after which it will move on to Milan from June 4 until October 25 and then on to Bari, where it will show until March 2010. To coincide with the opening of the show and Darwin`s birth on February 12, 1809 on Thursday the Italian post office is issuing a celebratory postage stamp.