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ROCKS, CRYSTALS AND METEORITES - The hidden collection of Politecnico of Turin,

Last Updated: 6th Sep 2018

By Achille Sorlini

Cover Image


The Regio Politecnico di Torino (Royal Turin Polytechnic) was founded as institution in 1906, but its origins go back further. It was preceded by the Scuola di Applicazione per gli Ingegneri (Technical School for Engineers) founded in 1859 after the Casati Act, and by the Museo Industriale Italiano (Italian Industry Museum) founded in 1862 under the aegis of the Italian Ministry of Agriculture, Trade and Industry.
Actually the school is the heir of the XVIII century Science Academies, so the history and the university collections begun more than 300 years ago. (https://areeweb.polito.it/strutture/cemed/001/museovirtuale.htm)

During its history scientists, professors, students and former students collected any kind of materials (rocks and minerals. as well), coming form mining and building activities, most of them in Italy.

Today the collection of minerals and rocks includes:
- about 3500 specimens of minerals coming from ancient collections of the Royal Application School for engineers and from Crida collection, gifted to the Municipality of Turin in 1963. At present, there are 1150 shown samples in 48 windows located at the library of the department of Geological Resources and Territory, whereas 200 samples (mostly large dimensioned) which are highly valuable from an exhibitory viewpoint, now are shown at the new meeting-room of the department;
- 24 meteorites;
- 25 radioactive minerals and 25 fluorescent minerals acquired by the American company Ward's Nat. Sc. Est. in 1962;
- 250 small dimensioned samples of the Mine collection of the Mining Eng. John Henry Johns, gifted to his heirs in 1966;
- about 1200 specimens of rocks, among which we mention a collection of samples showing tectonic phenomena, with mesoscopic scale and geomorphology of surface formations, due to L. Peretti;
- 100 samples of the new Alpine Rock Collection, selected by A. Boriani of the University of Milan, purchased in 1977;
- an important collection of Italian and foreign important ornamental stone plates, annexed to the Laboratory of Marble;
- many minerals collected after the WWII by professors of Mining School.

Mining Deposit Collection
It includes over 500 samples coming from the main Italian and European mines. The collection was created by A. Cavinato and his students S. Zucchetti and P. Natale.

Collections of thin rock sections
Unique in its kind, this collection of thin large dimensioned rock sections, was created by Alfonso Cossa (1881), and now includes 700 units.

Other Didactic Materials
Then, we can remember some hundreds of samples of minerals and rocks, located at the class-room of the 'ex-Institute of Mine Deposits and Applied Geology, and several sets of thin and bright sections for the microscope study of transmitted light rocks and metal minerals (opaque) at reflex light.

During the past 20 years, most part of the collection was carried to underground storage facilities and, mostly, forgotten.
During that period and after some movings, boxes of minerals were damaged, opened and some specimen disappeared, stolen or simply lost.
In 2016, thanks to the contribution of volonteers and retired professors, a difficult work of recovery, cleanind and filing begun in order to know and to make available the collection to students and to the public.

After 1 year of hard work, it was possible to organize an exhibit along the university hallway showing the first results.

The subject of the exhibition


The exhibit took place from april to october 2017 and today all the material has been stored again, waiting for a final destination inside the university buildings.

Some pictures simply taken with a smartphone follow.

Let's start with the geological profile of Mont Blanc tunnel and the collection of rocks collected during the excavation.


A historical item: one of the first drilling machine built for the Frejus tunnel (1863)
Sommeiler drilling machine, 1863

Turin, Torino Province, Piedmont, Italy


Minerals from Traversella mine
Magnetite and Dolomite
Galena, Quartz and Magnesite
Magnetite and Dolomite
Galena, Quartz and Magnesite
Magnetite and Dolomite
Galena, Quartz and Magnesite


The history of the big iceland calcite



The Museum hosted till 1942 one of the greatest calcite crystal of this type.
In december 1942 the Politecnico was hit by some shells during an air bombing attack.
For the heat, the big crystal blasted and divided in smaller crystals.
After the bombing, the staff collected all the fragments and kept them in a safe storage.
This is the first time since then, that it's possible to see all the fragments together as reassembled for the exhibit.


A huge phosgenite group from Monteponi mine



Some various specimen

Various specimen of the collection


Metorites collection: some stolen or lost during the past century

Meteorites collection


Collection of wide rocks thin sections

Very wide rocks thin sections





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