- Type: Museums
NileGuide Expert Says:
Archaeology and history lovers will swoon over this museum, which is home to many of the artistic finds from ancient Pompeii, Herculaneum and other cities in the Naples area.
This 16th-century palace was remodeled in the 17th century to house the National Archaeological Museum. According to the fashion of the time, precious antiquities were embedded in the building as decoration: The marble statues on the facade were found during early excavations of Pompeii; the mosaics embedded in many of the floors are originals from the ancient Roman villas excavated in the 17th century. The whole collection is jaw-dropping and very extensive; even children will love the Egyptian section, and teens will be fascinated by the amazing precious Gemme collection.
The original core of the museum is the Farnese Collection, which was moved here in 1777 and enriched with treasures found during the archaeological excavations of Pompeii, Herculaneum, Stabia, and the rest of the region. The first-floor galleries here hold a superb collection of Roman sculptures, illustrating the integration of Hellenic principles into Roman art, and including such masterpieces as the Doriforo (Spear Bearer) from Pompeii, a unique, complete copy of the famous 5th-century-B.C. bronze statue by the Greek sculptor Policleto (in the Galleria dei Grandi Maestri, section 2). Other great masterpieces on display in the Farnese Collection include the superb Ercole Farnese, a Hercules copied from a 4th-century-B.C. bronze by Greek sculptor Lisippo (found in the Terme di Caracalla in Rome, this sculpture had enormous influence on Renaissance artists); and the exceptional Toro Romano or Toro Farnese, one of the largest existing sculpture groups from antiquity. Standing over 4m (13 ft.) high, the Toro Farnese is a copy of a Greek original from the 2nd century B.C., representing the torment of the queen of Beotia as she is tied to a bull. Also part of the Farnese Collection are the three rooms of the Gemme della Collezione Farnese, a matchless collection of precious objects (over 2,000 pieces), including the unique tazza farnese created in Alexandria in the 2nd century B.C.: Carved from a single piece of agate into the shape of a drinking cup, it is one of the largest cameos ever created.
From the first floor, you can also access the Epigraphic Collection (inscriptions) -- the most important epigraphic collection in the world that pertains to ancient Roman and Greek civilizations -- and the Egyptian Collection, holding artifacts from 2700 B.C. up to the Ptolemaic-Roman period of the 2nd and 1st centuries B.C.
On the mezzanine level, besides the reorganized Numismatic Collection, with over 200,000 coins and medals from antiquity, you'll find the richest mosaic collection in the world, with pieces spanning from the 2nd century B.C. to the 1st century A.D. Among the many works of art here is the magnificent Alexander the Great defeating Darius of Persia, a huge mosaic covering 20 sq. m (216 sq. ft.), which was found in the Casa del Fauno in Pompei.
More Ancient Roman mosaics line the floors of the second level, where you'll find the beautiful Meridiana Hall and the complete findings from the several Roman towns and villas destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79. The collection of Ancient Roman paintings covers the period from the 1st century B.C. to the 1st century A.D. Note: If you have time for only one section of the museum, make it this one: Entire rooms have been reconstructed from villas in Pompeii, Herculaneum, Boscoreale, Boscotrecase, and other locations. Our single favorite room is #77, with its landscapes and a portrait of the girl Saffo. (At presstime, the frescoes of this room were under restoration and only visible on selected days, so call ahead.) Don't miss the room dedicated to the Herculaneum's Villa dei Papiri. Further collections here include precious objects -- silver, ivory, pottery, and glass -- as well as weaponry and a scale reconstruction of Pompeii. Also on this floor, are unique findings from the Naples area's prehistoric through Etruscan and Greek periods.
We recommend the helpful audioguides. You may also make a reservation for a guided tour of the Roman erotica (famous since Goethe's day) in the Gabinetto Segreto (Secret Room). The collection documents the acceptance of sexuality in everyday Roman life until Christians demonized it as the embodiment of paganism.
- © Frommer's 2013
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- Very Highly Recommended 2010