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Galileo Galilei's parents were Vincenzo Galilei and Guilia Ammannati. Vincenzo, who was born in Florence in 1520, was a teacher of music and a fine lute player. After studying music in Venice he carried out experiments on strings to support his musical theories. Guilia, who was born in Pescia, married Vincenzo in 1563 and they made their home in the countryside near Pisa. Galileo was their first child and spent his early years with his family in Pisa.

In 1572, when Galileo was eight years old, his family returned to Florence, his father's home town. However, Galileo remained in Pisa and lived for two years with Muzio Tedaldi who was related to Galileo's mother by marriage. When he reached the age of ten, Galileo left Pisa to join his family in Florence and there he was tutored by Jacopo Borghini. Once he was old enough to be educated in a monastery, his parents sent him to the Camaldolese Monastery at Vallombrosa which is situated on a magnificent forested hillside 33 km southeast of Florence. The Camaldolese Order was independent of the Benedictine Order, splitting from it in about 1012. The Order combined the solitary life of the hermit with the strict life of the monk and soon the young Galileo found this life an attractive one. He became a novice, intending to join the Order, but this did not please his father who had already decided that his eldest son should become a medical doctor.

Vincenzo had Galileo return from Vallombrosa to Florence and give up the idea of joining the Camaldolese order. He did continue his schooling in Florence, however, in a school run by the Camaldolese monks. In 1581 Vincenzo sent Galileo back to Pisa to live again with Muzio Tedaldi and now to enrol for a medical degree at the University of Pisa. Although the idea of a medical career never seems to have appealed to Galileo, his father's wish was a fairly natural one since there had been a distinguished physician in his family in the previous century. Galileo never seems to have taken medical studies seriously, attending courses on his real interests which were in mathematics and natural philosophy. His mathematics teacher at Pisa was Filippo Fantoni, who held the chair of mathematics. Galileo returned to Florence for the summer vacations and there continued to study mathematics.