Historical Guests

Portofino, a World apart
February 2009

Lazzaro Spallanzani in Portofino.

When we observe along the so-called “beach of the women” at the Pedale in Santa Margherita Ligure – Portofino, all the skin divers (male and female) that submerge and emerge like so many frogs, it is exceedingly humorous for us here at the end of the twentieth century to think that in 1785 the forty-five years old scientist Lazaro Spallanzani swam in these very same waters to study the necessity of contact between the eggs of amphibians and the liquid sperm for reproduction. He had come to the abbey of Cervara from Portovenere where he had conducted important studies in taxidermy.

This personality, a great traveller and attentive observer of nature in all its multiple aspects, though not written about extensively and known primarily to a handful of specialists, was nevertheless a Spallanzani great experimental scientist, a forerunner of the great Louis Pasteur who did important studies on spontaneous generation which he demonstrated to be impossible. He wasthus a not very recognized pride of the century of the enlightened. Among his discoveries was the exam for the system of the circulation of blood. He was a professor of natural sciences, obtaining this post through the empress Maria Teresa of Austria. In that summer in which he resided at Cervara he was the guest of the monks with the permission of the Prior of administration don Benedetto Spinola. He united work with pleasure because surely nothing was more beautiful to him than in the evening, after having dined quietly in the monastery, to relax in his chamber in the freshness of his earthly plants and gaze at the sea.

In the mornings he would resume his research and study. Science is pethaps indebted to Lazzaro Spallanzani for many of his reflections, among which dealt with the animal quality of sponges and protozoa, and the degree of salinity in marine waters. When, after his vacation spent on the Riviera of the Portofino he returned as Chairman of the Natural Sciences at the university, the great scientist elaborated his important experiences and codified them in his published works. He never forgot houever, his splendid sojourn in Portofino.

Lazzaro Spallanzani

, a World apart.