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Sorrento Holiday Must do - Naples Archaeological Museum

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By | Blog, Amalfi Coast | Posted 15 Dec 2015

Sorrento Holiday Must do - Naples Archaeological Museum

If you are thinking of visiting the Naples and Sorrento region in Italy, then you will of course be thinking about which tours to do. A visit to Capri is a must do, but so also is the main attraction of the area – Pompeii and Herculaneum.

Everyone knows the basic history of Mount Vesuvius obliterating the area and its people, but for a full in depth history and to see some of the artefacts, you need to head to the Naples Archaeological Museum. This museum houses collections of works from Greek, Roman and Renaissance times, and is also known for being one of the most important museums in the world. This makes it definitely worth a visit on your Sorrento holiday!

The building itself has gone through several incarnations since its creation in the 1750s by Charles III of Spain.  It was initially used as a cavalry barracks, and then as the seat of the University of Naples, which saw the building extended in the late 18th century.

The majority of the works are from the Farnese Collection, which include engraved gems along with the Farnese Cup, a Ptolemaic bowl and the “Treasure of the Magnificent”, which is founded upon gems collected by both Lorenzo the Magnificent and Cosimo de Medici. The last of which dates back to the 15th century. The Farnese marbles are also on display in this museum. These are relevant as they include Roman copies of classical Greek sculptures, many of which were lost.

Along with these are the Herculaneum papyri which were carbonized by Mount Vesuvius’s eruption, and were found in the Villa of the Papyri soon after 1752. The works include “The Seated Hermes”, “The Drunken Satyr”, a bust of “Thespis”, “Seneca” and “Hesiod”, amongst their collection.

Other Pompeii treasures are The Alexander Mosaic which dates back to around 100 BC and showcases a battle scene between Alexander the Great and Darius III of Persia, and a gladiatorial fighter.

If all of this is not enough, the museum holds the second largest collection of Egyptian artefacts in Italy, surpassed only by Museo Egizio in Turin.  The collections are made up of two main sets of works – the first from Cardinal Borgia in the late 18th century, the other from Picchianti in the beginning of the 19th century. The Egyptian works are grouped with the Pompeii artefacts for easy viewing.

Lastly as you move around the museum, you will notice The Secret Cabinet, which is for adults only, as it holds a rather extensive collection of erotic or sexual items salvaged from both Pompeii and Herculaneum.  The area was only opened after the 1848 revolution when the government briefly considered destroying the items, as they didn’t want to be associated with their lascivious nature. Instead these were locked up by no fewer than three different sets of locks, before being walled up in the hope of them being lost forever. At one point this even included some nude Venus statues! When Garibaldi’s forces moved into Naples in September 1860, he ordered the collection to be made opened for public viewing, but this was still appointment only. For most of its past this collection was hidden or the public had limited access to see them, and it was not until April 2000 that they were fully on display to everyone over the age of fourteen.

For the above reasons, it is recommended that you allow a good few hours on your Sorrento holiday to really see everything this museum has to offer.


4th Century Roman sarcophagus housed within the Naples Archaeological Museum, Italy

Pottery from Pompeii excavations housed within the Naples Archaeological Museum, Italy



About Hannah Netting

Hannah has had the travel bug from an early age where she was fortunate enough to travel widely, including a four month trip around the world. For her experiencing new cultures, sights and wonders was very important.

Lately her focus has been heavily on Italy enhanced by many wonderful trips including Verona, Venice, Top to Toe, Florence, amongst many others. In Venice she got lost in true Venetian style and got to experience the amazing acoustics of the Verona Arena. Currently Florence is her favourite, but this can always change! With plenty on offer in Italy, it will keep her entertained for many more trips to come!

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