HZERO has its headquarters in the heart of Florence, just a five-minute walk from Santa Maria Novella station.
The model railway, spanning over 280 square meters, is now housed in the rooms of a well-known former Florentine cinema, converted into a museum while retaining its original character. It is a place where the wonder of trains travels on the tracks of time, like sequences from a black-and-white film. A unique location, rich in charm and personality: at HZERO, stories are constantly in motion.
History of Piazza degli Ottaviani 2
Leaving Santa Maria Novella Church behind us, just a few steps away, we will find a display case on the right. Now it hosts shelves with model railways on display, but it's not hard to imagine that, up until about twenty years ago, that display used to contain posters of upcoming movies.
It was the Ariston cinema in Florence. The cinema halls opened their doors for the first time in 1938. Gone with the Wind, Citizen Kane, Casablanca, 2001: A Space Odyssey, E.T., Pulp Fiction, Fight Club. It almost seems possible to conjure up the movie posters in your mind. Then the projectors at the Ariston began to flicker, and in 2000, they went out for good.
With the closure of the cinema, the narrative and creative potential of that place did not come to an end, quite the opposite.
The doors reopened in 2022. The premises were transformed. The spaces were brought to light by the family of the Marquis of San Giuliano. The museum project is the result of a restoration and functional adaptation entrusted to the architect Luigi Fragola. At the center of the stage now you will find one of the largest model railways in Europe, with over 280 square meters of tracks, mountains, and rivers, castles and bridges, an imagined landscape brought to life by the creative energy of Giuseppe Paternò Castello di San Giuliano. Thus begins the spectacle of HZERO.
Cinema, train, museum. One ticket.
Yesterday it was a cinema, today it is a museum of trains and model railroading. There's a solid track that traces this journey, a connection that unfolds from the first film ever projected to the latest developments in technology. Cinema and trains initiated a new century, rewriting the rules of movement. Imagine a railroad flowing like frames of film, try to listen to the advance of the locomotive and the camera. HZERO is the place where this encounter happens. It preserves the memory, the structure, the magic of representation.
Observing the model railway – one of the largest in Europe – gives the sensation of witnessing a true show, a work of creativity and directorial ingenuity.
Crossing through HZERO
It's a bit like walking through the red curtains of a cinema, the ones that separate the inside from the outside. HZERO is a space where time and distances operate in their own way. The charm of the former cinema is evident in the curves of the vault, the marble flooring, and the ticket booth sign. A lobby transformed into a first meeting point with the art of trains: the shop features a selection of books for both adults and children, art volumes, souvenirs, items that describe the railway culture and the culture of Florence, as well as actual model trains. In what used to be the audience area of the Ariston cinema, the protagonist of HZERO comes to life today: the model railway occupies the entire room. A kilometer of tracks, a thousand streetlights. You can walk through it, with your body and your gaze, you can see it move as the seasons pass in the backdrops. Climbing the stairs, from the gallery, there is an overview of the entire work; in one glance, the magic lights up. And then, the small cinema room appears, preserving the spirit of the Ariston, revealing the history and behind-the-scenes of the museum project; camera movements allow us to see the model from yet new perspectives. HZERO is a game of close-ups to appreciate the details and wide shots to embrace the charm of the spectacle in its whole.