Launched on May 29, the museum space titled HZERO orients around its giant centerpiece, a 280-square metre-railway model that’s one of the largest in Europe. The set dates to 1972, when it was ideated by the Marquis Giuseppe Paternò Castello di San Giuliano, with his passion and dedication leading to the realization of the model that has now found its museum form thanks to the commitment of his son and daughters, Diego, Giulia and Maria.
Having been started at the Florentine home of its creator in 1972, the project was moved to the barn of the family farmhouse in Val d’Arno in 1985, and had been located at a 400 m2 hangar in Scandicci since 2000. Various friends and acquaintances made contributions to the model’s decades-long evolution, including Carlo Brandolini d’Adda and the model maker Marco Baldi.
Travelling through realistic scenarios and fantastical settings, the miniature Märklin train transports its passengers and cargo from the mountainous landscape of the Dolomites to the picturesque prettiness of Elba island, with awe-inducing intricate details. HZERO is the term for the 1:87 scale, introduced in the 1930s to replace the 00 scale, allowing for greater realism and increased ability to reproduce details.
The museum is curated by Alberto Salvadori, with the architectural project by Luigi Fragola. The former Ariston Cinema in piazza Ottaviani is transformed into a miniature world, just minutes from its real contemporary counterpart at Santa Maria Novella railway station. The immersive environment combines expert craftsmanship with high technology, creating, as Mayor of Florence Dario Nardella declares, “a new multifaceted and innovative centre around the large-scale model of the train that invites both young and old to enjoy the magic of modeling, shown for the first time in a unique and interactive way.”
All those with locomotive leanings will be enthusiastic to enter the immersive space that curator Alberto Salvadori describes as “not a museum about trains, but the museumization of a dream…it’s about being able to regain possession of the faculty and importance of playing as a tool for understanding, training and levity, necessary and indispensable in order to be extremely serious. After all, I ask you a question: have you ever seen a child greet a car, bus or motorbike? Very rarely, I would say. A train, on the other hand, always! We believe that HZERO is an important museum for the city because it’s a place where you can travel with emotions, play, and immerse yourself in a wonderful and imaginative world that fascinates and captivates people of all ages.”
A programme of events and an educational offering is set to accompany the exhibit from autumn, with a dedicated Spotify channel to share content related to the world and history of trains linked to the temporary exhibition I luoghi del viaggio: Il fischio del treno presented in collaboration with Fondazione FS Italiane. As to what Salvadori hopes people will take away from their visit to the museum, he commented “Having worked in museums for a long time, I still don’t assume to know what people will learn from visiting a museum. Personally, I have wonderful memories of the visits I made as a child to museums and similar places. They enriched me in visual, fantastical and narrative terms, so I hope that a visit to HZERO may in part or in whole contribute to reviving these emotions. One thing I really hope is something that can’t be learned, but felt: you must never stop playing, never lose the ability to fantasize”.
HZERO miniature railway museum, piazza degli Ottaviani 2, Florence
Open 11am to 7pm everyday except Tuesday. Last entrance 6pm.
Tickets are free for under 4s, 7 euro for children aged 4-13, 9 euro reduced, and 13 euro full price.