Piazza Federico Cesi
Before the sixteenth century the square did not exist but there was the moat that defended the ancient fortified fortress, what today has become the majestic Palazzo Cesi. As evidence of this, the two stone pillars on the sides of the building’s door testify to the presence of a drawbridge that allowed access to the Rocca.
In the first decades of the sixteenth century the Farnese family acquired the fief of Acquasparta, a fiefdom they sold in 1530 to Isabella Liviani, daughter of Bartolomeo d’Alvino, wife of Gian Giacomo Cesi, who exchanged it with her possessions in Alviano.
The current square, today dedicated to Federico Cesi and his Academic deeds, was once called “Piazza Nova” or “Piazza del duca”. It was built in the second half of the sixteenth century, forcing every family of Acquasparta to bring 10 some of land or to pay a fee for transportation by third parties, in order to heal the old moat.
Today, the square is a tribute to the Galilean cosmology and to the founders and belonging to the Accademia dei Lincei.
A true “Code of Linci” is engraved on the travertine stones of Piazza Cesi, in Acquasparta: the code is composed of twelve strange symbols that recall those of the constellations and must be read from right to left, as opposed to the normal sense of writing. To decipher them you need the Lynx alphabet, written in 1603 and currently preserved in the archives of the Accademia dei Lincei, in Rome.
Once decoded, the symbols form the Latin phrase: “Sagacius ista”, “sharper than her”: they refer to the lynx, a feline with a razor-sharp view and convey the desire to know and understand that animated four young friends early 17th century. They wanted to have more acute senses than those of a lynx and with those senses, they wanted to discover the secrets of the world.
On 17 August 1603, Federico Cesi, twenty-year-old son of the Duke of Acquasparta and of the noblewoman Olimpia Orsini of Todi, reunited his friends Francesco Stelluti, jurist and scholar of Fabriano, Anastasio De Filiis, a ternan scholar passionate about astronomy and skilled in the construction of devices mechanics, and Johannes van Heeck, a brilliant Dutch doctor who graduated from the University of Perugia, in his home in via della Maschera d’Oro, in Rome, to seal a pact that will make their exploits immortal.
Together they founded the Accademia dei Lincei, the oldest scientific organization in the world, today the highest Italian intellectual institution and scientific and cultural consultant of the President of the Republic. The four proclaimed themselves “disciples of nature in order to admire their portents and seek their causes” and adopted a lynx as their emblem, with the motto that now celebrates them in the Piazza di Acquasparta.
The essence of their partnership was drafted in a broad programmatic status, the Lynceographum, and in the inaugural ceremony, on December 25th of the same year, Federico – elected Princeps perpetual lynceorum – gave each “brother” a gold necklace with a pendant , which will then be replaced by a ring with a rectangular emerald on which a lynx is engraved. It is the Linceo ring, of which today the imprints on sealing wax remain in the academic documents.
In a century in which superstitions and prejudices threatened to stifle the dawn of experimental research, the basis of modern science, the four friends’ meetings were opposed by the Duke of Acquasparta, who ended up denouncing van Heeck at the Holy Office for suspected heresy. The young, forced to disperse, decided to exploit the symbolism and allegories of alchemy in the name of science. And so they invented the code, formed by signs analogous to those recurrent in esoteric symbolism, and used it to write letters and draw up documents.
Federico moved to Acquasparta, in the family palace, from which he had a close correspondence with his affiliates using previously agreed code names, which somehow reflect the inclinations of each of them: the prince was the Coelivagus, for his passion towards the sky and the stars, Stelluti is the Tardigradus, due to its reflexive nature, De Filiis l’Eclipsatus, for its aptitude for the study of planetary phenomena, and van Heeck the Illuminatus, the most whimsical and brilliant of the four.
Some years passed and the four scholars were finally able to meet in Acquasparta to animate the Academy of new projects and new members, such as Giovanbattista Della Porta, the magician scientist of Naples.
But the real big blow came on April 25, 1611 when the Academy welcomed the Pisan scientist: Galileo Galilei who, from that moment on, will sign all his works with the name “Linceo”. It is the beginning of a profound and sincere friendship between the scientist and the young Federico and the turning point in the intellectual journey of the Academy, which will abandon the magical-esoteric aspect that had accompanied it in the first years of its existence to immerse itself in the revolutionary point of view of the great Pisan scientist, stimulating him in his research.
Federico hosted Galileo in Acquasparta in April 1624. He accompanied him to the Marmore Falls and by boat on Lake Piediluco. During the trip that Galileo illustrated to his friends the principle of the relative motion of bodies, throwing the keys to the room of Francesco Stelluti into the air from the boat, and threatening to make them fall into the water, as the same Fabriano academic recounts in his account of that unforgettable day. Other documents depict Federico and Galileo intent on observing the stars with the new invention of Galileo – the telescope – through the arches of the specula of Palazzo Cesi, and Francesco, Anastasio and Johannes who spend whole days in the laboratory rooms of the Ducal Palace to experience the use of the eyepiece (prototype of today’s microscope, and so renamed by the Lincei), another Galilean instrument donated to the academy by the great scientist.
It is to pay homage to the splendid adventure of these young friends, and to remember one of the symbolic places of man’s love for knowledge, which today in the ornamental stones of Piazza Cesi, in addition to the “Code from lynxes”, are carved of strange names: Coelivagus, Tardigradus, Eclipsatus and Illuminatus, inscribed in four large travertine circles, which seem to orbit – like many planets – around a fifth circle, the largest. The one dedicated to Galilei. From this one springs a fountain, a symbol of knowledge that the scientist has given us as a gift.