The National Archeological Museum is one of the most important museums of classical archeology in the world and it is absolutely a MUST SEE when you are in Napoli.
The building was originally constructed as a calvary barracks and then was used to house a university, before it was finally turned into a museum. Over the centuries it has had many alterations for the purpose of housing its immense collection.
In the mid 18th Century, King Charles of Bourbon made available to the public his collection of antiquities inherited from his mother, 'the Farnese collection', which consisted of many amazing statues from Roman and Greek Antiquity. The king himself was a collector of fine archeological treasures, especially from the nearby buried cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. He promoted the excavations of the two cities which were covered up by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79AD. From these, he gained a large number of marble and bronze sculptures, inscriptions, mosaics, pottery, jewellery, wall paintings, and Roman knick-knacks of every kind. This is the collection we still admire today.
Nowadays, the museum is organised on four floors. I personally would suggest that you start from the top floor, which has the stunning collection of frescoes from Pompeii and Herculaneum, the hall of the Temple of Isis in Pompeii, and a model of the city of Pompeii before being destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius.
On the same floor in the western halls there are collections from the cities of Ancient Greece and also Etruscan and Roman cities, such as Pozzuoli, Capua, Baia, Miseno and Capri.
In the others halls there is the history of Naples and the magnificent collection of the Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum. Discovered in 1750, this was a typical private villa. Very impressive is the high number and fine quality of the statues found in the villa, intense portraits of ordinary people, athletes, dancers, philosophers and gods. I always find it incredible how detailed these statues are, their faces, their hands, and their hair. They still seem to be alive to me.
Also housed here is the reason of the villa's name, the spectacular collection of more than 1000 papyrus rolls from the villa's library which survived the eruption, despite the fragile material of the scrolls and the high temperature of the lava. When first discovered many people through curiosity tried to unroll them in order to read them, but all were damaged. Only thanks to the invention of a machine in 1754 was it possible to open the rolls and read many of the most important texts of Greek literature, which otherwise would of been lost.
Continuing the journey down to the first floor is the reconstruction of the Casa del Fauno (house of the Faun) from Pompeii, which has the original pavements, columns, mosaics (including the famous Mosaic of Alexander) and all the original artefacts from the villa. It is amazing that most of the features of the house still have all their splendid and vivid colours.
From these rooms it is possible to enter into the Gabinetto Segreto (Secret Cabinet). This is the collection of erotic artefacts and mosaics from Pompeii as well as a reconstruction of a typical brothel. It is very interesting to see the Roman's take on sexuality.
On the ground floor, where the entrance to the museum is, you can visit the Giardino delle Camelie (Garden of Camellias) and the Giardino delle Fontane (Garden of Fountains). Here is also the famous Farnese collection, which includes the gallery of Roman Emperors, Philosophers and mythological figures, like the giant Hercules at rest and the monumental Farnese Bull (both dated around the end 2nd/early 3rd century AD and discovered around 1545-46 in the Caracalla baths). Continuing on your journey you will then come across the Gem rooms.
To finish your visit, you will go down to the basement where you will find the Egyptian and Epigraphs collection. To know more about it, check out my blog Egypt in Napoli.
Piazza Museo 19 - 80137 Napoli.
Tel: +39 06 39967 050
Tickets: € 12 / Concessions € 6 / Evening entry € 2 - Promotions are applied to Trenitalia and Frecciarossa customers, see the website.
Free entry every first Sunday of the month.
Opening hours: 09.00 - 19.30. Closed Tuesdays.
Closed December 25th and January 1st.