Researchers at the University of Florence have recently determined that Palazzo Pitti was equipped with an “air conditioning” system to make the sultry summer days more bearable for the Medici.
The results of the study conducted by a team of of engineering and architecture experts of the University of Florence revealed that the fresh air coming from the Boboli Park, located behind the building, was channeled through a system of levels of pavement to a room in the basement of the building equipped with special receipt nozzles. From here, the now chilled air was distributed through a network of trellises into the rooms above.
Given a summer temperature of 35 degrees Celsius in the square in front of Palazzo Pitti, the temperature differential in the premises obtained with this system could be significant, amounting to about 10 degrees cooler than the outside temperature. Researchers also discovered that to strengthen cooling power, ice-cold water was stored in the building to lower the temperature and humidity in the air.
Although forms of cooling houses have existed since classical antiquity, the type of air conditioning discovered in the Pitti Palace is unique because is a domestic technology made possible by the presence of a cool garden right next to the building.
According to the research team, similar examples can be found in the Custoza Venetian villas and mansions in Palermo from which the system of the Pitti Palace was inspired.
Modern air conditioning as we understand it today was not developed until the late 19th century, and wasn’t popularized until the 20th century. Despite this, early forms of it can be traced back to ancient Rome, where aqueduct water was circulated through structural walls in order to cool them.
To conduct the investigation, the researchers used models of the Pitti Palace, a wind tunnel, and computer simulations.
Hot days in the summer were a problem even for the aristocratic families of the past. With Leonardo engaged in his flying experiments, the Medici had to solve the problem by themselves, and they did it just by opening a few windows and closing some doors.
Could their ingenious methods be applied today and help save some energy and possibly some money too?