The National Archaeological Museum is the best known museum in Naples and, especially thanks to the objects from the excavations at Pompeii, Herculaneum and other ancient cities, the main tourist attraction in the city.
National Archaeological Museum Naples
Opening Hours, Admission and Address
The address of the Museo Archeologico Nazionale is Piazza Museo Nazionale 19 – 80135 Napoli (tel. +39 081440166). Metro: Museo. Bus: 2M, 178, 182, 184, 201, 203, 460, 584, C47, C63, N3, N4, N8, R1, R4. Opening hours: 09:00 to 19:30. Closed: Tuesday, January 1, May 1, December 25. Entrance fee: 8 Euro. (Note: If you are interested in specific parts of the museum, it is best to call in advance to see if they are open. Especially during the summer months and on Sundays and holidays there is often not enough staff and certain rooms have to remain closed).
The building where the museum is located was originally a cavalry barracks, built in 1586. Later it served for a time as a university building under the name Palazzo degli Studi. From 1777 it was used by King Charles VII of Bourbon to display the collection of ancient works of art he had inherited from his mother Elisabetta Farnese.
This Farnese collection had been begun in 1547 by Alessandro Farnese (later Pope Paul III) and later expanded by his nephew, also called Alessandro. The collection, which was originally intended for the Palazzo Farnese in Rome, was later expanded with objects found in excavations in Rome itself.
A second core of the collection came from the excavations of Herculaneum and Pompeii.
On level -1 of the building, the Borgia Collection of Egyptian relics and jewelry is on display.
On the first floor is part of the Farnese Collection, consisting of (often copies of) Greek and Roman sculptures.
The Toro Farnese (“Farnese Bull”) from the 3rd century is probably a Roman copy of a Greek original. The work, carved from a huge block of marble (2.95 by 3 by 3.7m), was found at the Terme di Caracalla in Rome in 1546. It was restored by Michelangelo and brought to Naples in 1787. It depicts the death of the Dirce, the Queen of Thebes.
The Farnese Hercules emerged from the same excavations, originally without the legs, but when these were later found the Bourbon kings of Naples had them reattached to the muscular torso.
The bronze statues of Augustus and Claudius (mid 1st century AD) are from the Augusteum of Herculaneum. The Antonio Minore and the Marcus Calatorius Quartio were found in the theater of Herculaneum in the 18th century.
Of exceptional value is the statue the “Spear Carrier” or “Doruphoros”, found in Pompei in 1797. It is a copy of a Greek statue made in the fifth century BC by Polykleitos.
Through its more than 2,000 epigrams (in Latin, Greek, Etruscan, and the Oskian spoken in part of southern Italy), it highlights various aspects of life in ancient times.
Pompeii and Herculaneum
Mosaics from Pompeii , Herculaneum and Stabia are exhibited on the bell floor. The best known is “The Battle between Alexander and Darius”, probably made by Alexandrian artisans working in Italy in the 2nd century. The image was located in the Casa del Fauno and measures 3.42 by 5.92 meters.
Sex in Pompeii
In the Gabinetto Segreto (“Secret Closet” or “Secret Room”) on the belvedere floor, one can see a multitude of erotic art, also found during excavations in Pompeii.
The famous statue representing the God Pan doing it with a goat comes from the Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum.
For inspiration, there is a series of nine sex positions, probably from a brothel.
The coin collection is also on the piano nobile.
The huge “Hall of the Sundial” on the second floor houses several paintings from the Farnese collection. This room originally served as the library of the university building.
The ceiling of the hall is graced with the fresco “Triumph of Ferdinand IV of Bourbon and Marie Caroline of Austria” by Pietro Bardellino (1781).
The Atlante Farnese is a famous sculpture representing Atlas, with a globe on his shoulders.
Ceramics, glassware, copperware, Greek funerary urns and hundreds of other objets d’art can be seen on the rest of the 1st floor. These come not only from Pompeii and Herculaneum, but also from other places buried by lava and ash such as Boscoreale, Stabiae and Cuma.
A highlight is formed by the wall paintings from the Villa di Agrippa Postumus and from the Casa di Meleagro.
The 2,000-object collection of precious stones comes partly from finds in Campania and partly from the Farnese collection. The highlight is the so-called Tazza Farnese, Alexandrian art from the second century BC.