After more than twenty years of waiting, the capital’s new Planetarium is a reality, and at a particularly happy time for the spreading of Italian astronomy, as a number of new structures extend across all of the nation. Rome’s Planetarium was established in 1928, among the first in Europe, and closed at the beginning of the 1980s, when the historic Octagonal Hall of the Exedra of the Baths of Diocletian, was made over to other uses. The new planetarium reopened in a different building in May 2004, thanks to the interest of the Office of Cultural Politics of the Municipality, the Lazio Region and the University of La Sapienza.
The Planetarium was established within the buildings of the Museum of Roman Culture in EUR and provided with a new technologically advanced projector, which replaced the old Zeiss II model. In a series of adjacent rooms, an Astronomical Museum was developed with models, planetary dioramas and multimedia stations, which integrate the cultural and educational aspect of the planetarium. The Planetarium and the Astronomical Museum function as mutually complementary structures, furnishing the stimuli of interweaving questions and answers, at many different levels of understanding. The association with the Museum of Roman Culture, meanwhile, aims to illuminate the static (and amazing) archaeological displays with a new light, introducing scientific and technological stimuli, playing with the contrast between ancient and modern. This underlines how scientific and astronomical culture can, and should, be inserted into a historical context, and how a multidisciplinary perspective, which overcomes the dichotomy between the physical sciences and the humanities, should be privileged.
From its inauguration, the new Planetarium of Rome engaged in educational activities designed for schools and it has continuously increased its efforts to diffuse scientific and astronomical culture to the general public of Rome, organising major events and transforming it ever more into a lively place, where to return more than once and learn, is also an entertainment. It is learning without “studying”, in the traditional sense of the word: it is always a journey, which arouses curiosity and pleasure, through the three concepts of time, space and the origin of the elements which make up the world in which we live.
Conceived as a real “Astronomical Theatre”, the Planetarium and the Museum offer not only a dense program of displays for schools and the general public, but also show animations for children. These are extremely interdisciplinary, involving music, theatre and direct observation of the skies, without ever forgetting the hard kernel of science. There are also continual additions on current hot topics in astrophysics, and ample space given over to the historical heritage of the astronomical discipline.