A little history of the National Archaeological Museum in Naples
The Museum was born thanks to the Bourbons' interest in art and culture. In particular, two members of the family gave life to this exhibition space. Charles III, King of Naples since 1734, began to explore the territory destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D., thanks to which the cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii were found. He also brought to Naples a rich collection of Roman archaeological finds, transferred from the city of Lazio, from the heritage of his mother, Elisabetta Farnese.
However, it was his son Ferdinand VI who gathered the Roman part of Farnese's collection, and the Vesuvian finds in one single building, the Palazzo dei Studi. During the French domination, which opened the first part of the 19th century, the first facilities were organized.
Still, only with the return of the Bourbons, we can talk about the construction of a real museum. This was named the Royal Bourbon Museum, which became the National Museum with the unification of Italy in 1860. After almost a hundred years, part of the findings of the Farnese collection was moved to form what today is the Museum of Capodimonte.
What is the National Archaeological Museum in Naples today?
The Archaeological Museum is one of the most important and complete of its kind nationally and worldwide. Inside you can admire mosaics, frescoes and statues from the nearby towns of Herculaneum and Pompeii, small wonders that survived the destructive force of Vesuvius. Inside the Museum there are also many finds from the ruins of ancient Rome, such as some sculptures from the Baths of Caracalla.
In addition, the Farnese collection fills this space with paintings, sculptures and gems that previously decorated the palace of the family of the same name in Rome. Finally, you cannot miss the beautiful collection dedicated to ancient Egypt, second in Italy after that of Turin and the oldest in Europe. In addition to the permanent exhibition, you will find a rich selection of temporary collections, exhibitions of modern and contemporary art and events related to the world of art and archaeology.
Curiosity about the National Archaeological Museum in Naples?
In the museum, you can visit the famous Secret Cabinet, where there are exhibits of a purely sexual and erotic nature from the excavations of Pompeii and Herculaneum. It was the Bourbons who gave this room its name and regulated its visits, allowing only those who were adults and morally just. Throughout its history it has had an alternate destination: it has been called "Cabinet of reserved/obscene/pornographic objects", to underline its corrupt nature. Later, after the revolutionary uprisings of the mid-19th century, it was censored, because it was an expression of too much libertinism.
In the following years, it was also thought to destroy everything, but in the end, the idea prevailed to close the room and wall it up, so that nobody could reaccess it.
In 1860 Giuseppe Garibaldi arrived in Naples ordering the reopening of the Cabinet to the public, even at the cost of destroying the doors! However, with the Kingdom of Italy, censorship returned, which became more and more severe during the Fascist dictatorship. Only in the 1970s was the Cabinet reopened to the public, albeit with many restrictions. Today you can visit this space without problems. Only one thing: an adult must accompany children under 14.
Why visit the National Archaeological Museum in Naples?
The Archaeological Museum has a beautiful collection of artefacts ranging from ancient Rome to modern times. It is a unique opportunity to admire some of the most representative pieces of the millenary culture of southern Italy. Among statues, paintings and "forbidden images", you will be catapulted back in time to discover the Neapolitan civilization and those close to it. You can also not miss the opportunity to see the famous Raphael's horse head live.
This sculpture was supposed to be part of a much larger figure (maybe 5 meters higher!), but it is believed that the rest of the body was melted down to obtain the material for the bells of Naples Cathedral. Besides the beauty, this sculpture, which has become one of the symbols of the city, some say that it has the power to cure animals: you just have to go around the head three times!
How can I visit the National Archaeological Museum in Naples?
To admire all the beautiful pieces that are preserved in this place, purchase a skip the line ticket to the Archaeological Museum in combination with the Audio Guide of the city of Naples that will help you discover a city full of history and color in order to capture its essence.
Other attractions in the area
First housed in the Palazzo dei Studi, now the Museum of Capodimonte is one of the mandatory attractions of your visit to Naples. Here tradition and novelty are intertwined thanks to the presence, on one hand, of some of the masterpieces by Titian, Parmigianino, Caravaggio and Raphael, and on the other, Andy Warhol's homage to the city.
If you want to dedicate more time to art, you can't miss the controversial Chapel of San Severo. It will welcome you with its sculptures suspended among beauty, mystery, talent and alchemy.
Moreover, the hill of Vomero houses one of the most beautiful religious buildings in Naples, the Certosa di San Martino, a symbol of the Neapolitan Baroque.
Finally, the whole city is worth visiting, so you can choose one of the magnificent tours that will take you to discover even the most hidden corners. And if the city limits are not enough for you, you can always go to the beautiful ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum.
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Tickets (Florence) or Tours (Milan).