The last time I gave dinosaurs any concerted thought, I was in grade two. It was the theme of the year for science and more, as it is for just about every elementary school kid in much of the world, I guess. Now, the oldest botanical garden in the world – the Orto Botanico of the Museo di Storia Naturale in Florence – is host to (reproductions of) something even older. On my way to Piazza San Marco the other morning, I saw a dinosaur through the fence and thought perhaps it would be worth visiting this exhibit that I’d billed as something mostly for kids.

And so I found myself face to face with beasts of names and shapes that I recalled from the shady memory of chidhood – the Tyrannosaurus rex, of course, and the Spinosaurus… as well as some other creatures that I didn’t recall at all, or that we hadn’t learned about. I decided to take this as a photographic challenge so this is essentially a photo post. I can hardly say that I am an authoritative dinosaur expert!

The setting in the historical garden is certainly more pleasant than that of an indoor museum. I arrived at summer opening time, 10am, to try to beat the heat. Indeed, the shady areas of the garden were quite bearable and fragrant – you can see and hear Florence’s busy streets, but this gigantic ‘courtyard’ takes you away from all that for at least an hour. Some moms and tots or families were starting to trickle in but it was not particularly crowded on a weekday, so no fear of being overun by a ton of screaming kids. The children I observed seemed to enjoy the ‘game’ of finding the dinosaurs that are in fact somewhat camouflaged in this green space and I saw with pleasure how they shouted with joy upon discovering ‘look! another one!’.

There are 40 life sized prehistoric creatures in the exhibit that have been crafted based on recent scientific knowlege by Italian master artisans working alongside experts in paleontology, 3D effects, computer modelling, illustrators and more. The displays are highly detailed though thankfully do not seem entirely real.

A big of imagination though and you can be thankful that you did not live 100 million years ago or so, for some of these creatures are really frightful. Some of the dinos have disemboweled other creatures and there is a goodly amount of stage blood used here – maybe a bit too much animal violence for the little ones?

The herbivores are some of my favourites. This guy is a prehistoric giraffe (with a very small head).

You also have to be grateful that insects these days are smaller than this guy.

Of course you’re in a botanical garden so do stop to smell the roses, so to speak. During my visit in July not much was flowering but this garden does contain some interesting and sometimes dangerous plans. For example, this plant is dangerous… if you are a fly.

The beautiful lily pad lacked only a frog, although goldfish abound… while these tall thistles silhouetted against an attractive palazzo on the bordering street.

Soon I realized that my ankles were being used as a late brunch for an unfortunately not extinct insect – the common mosquito – so I left, making a note to tell my readers to pack a bottle of OFF.

A note / critique: there are 100 didactic panels in this exhibit, and a didactic area inside (pictured above). By the brochure and signage in perfect English I would have expected to find the large panels also translated. Unfortunately, they are only in Italian. The didactic function of this exhibit is thus mostly lost on parents and children who cannot interpret the language, although the beasts’ names and years will of course be clear to all. Bilingual signage would have taken up an absurd amount of space, but perhaps a translated booklet could have been provided. At the desk there is a booklet with the same text as the signs (5€) but that, too, is only in Italian.

For a visit with a three year old read Laura’s impressions from when she visited with Francesco in ArtTrav’s Florence for kids column.

Exhibit information
Dinosauri in carne e ossa – Scienza e arte riportano alla vita i dominatori di un mondo perduto
Dinosaurs in the Flesh: Science and art bring the rulers of a lost world back to life.
March 1 to September 2, 2012
From June to Sept 2 it is open 10am to 7pm

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