The Natural History Museum of the Academy of the Fisiocritici of Siena, housed within the former Camaldolese 12th-century monastery of Santa Mustiola, is one of the oldest and most important scientific museums in Tuscany.
The Academcy of the “Fisiocritici”, founded in1691 by Pirro Maria Gabbrielli, a teacher of Medicine and Botany at the University of Siena, brought together numerous scholars who met periodically to discuss scientific matters and search for the truth in natural phenomena by means of experimental practice—hence the term “Fisiocritici”, meaning “judges of nature” or “they who study nature”.
Considered one of the most famous cultural societies in Europe, it counted among its members such scientific luminaries as Carlo Linneo, Joseph-Louis Lagrange, Alessandro Volta, and Louis Pasteur.
The exhibits, the original core collection of which dates back to the mid-1700s, brings together natural and historic finds, period instruments and various curios, organized in four sections.
Of particular importance are the Paolo Mascagni Collection, with its anatomical samples preserved through the technique of injecting metalic mercury into the lymphatic vessels; the Francesco Valenti-Serini Collection including a great number of terracotta models of mushrooms and a herbarium of lichens; the Francesco Spirito Collection, with anatomical samples treated with a process of petrification.
The section dedicated to zoology contains numerous exemplars of “naturalized” vertebrates (i.e., stuffed and mounted in natural positions), skeletons, samples in alcohol, shells and molluscs and display cases of insects, while the geological section gathers together a great many minerals, rocks and fossils.
The museum also has an archaeological section, which includes several Etruscan cinerary urns found in Asciano and in the Val d’Orcia. They have been placed in a hypogeum that represents an Etruscan tomb.