This wasn’t actually on our itinerary originally. But because of the bad weather preventing us from going up to Mount Vesuvius, we ended up coming here instead with our tour guide Fabio. And I have to say – I’m not sure Mount Vesuvius would have been better.
If you are ever in Naples, this is a must-see! As pointed out by Anda below, this museum makes a lot more sense if you visit Pompeii first.
I love wandering around museums but usually do so by myself. However, exploring this particular museum with a guide added so much value, because the signage just doesn’t give a lot of background. They seem to offer audio guides as well, though.
We only spent a few hours here but the place is huge. We could easily have lingered much longer. Some highlights:
A statue of Caesar Augustus found in Herculaneum (buried with Pompeii in AD 79 by that Mount Vesuvius eruption).
The Romans continued the Greek tradition of statues with idealised body types, with one major exception: where the Greek statues have the “perfect” face as well, the Romans preferred a little more realism and their statues’ faces actually look like the person after whom they were modelled.
I guess that makes them easier to identify!
Another one of Augustus.
The attention to detail is astonishing. It makes me a little sad that these works of art seem to have become an extinct art form.
The dogs cracked me up because my dog frequently adopts both of these poses! I guess dogs haven’t changed much in 2000 years.
This is a depiction of a barbarian prisoner – you can tell by the clothes, which are different from the Romans’. It’s always fascinated me how the vast Roman Empire, with its extremely disciplined army, could have been brought down by these “barbarians” – although I understand, of course, that there were many other factors which led to the decline and eventual fall of the Roman Empire.
Apparently they were called “barbarians” because the Romans couldn’t understand their language – all they heard was “ba ba ba” (a precursor to today’s blah blah blah?), hence: “barbarians”.
Some of the sculptures are really big. After you walk through this particular gallery, everything else suddenly seems puny.
Keep a look-out for a giant Hercules at rest (the Farnese Hercules).
And at the end of this gallery, you see the Farnese Bull:
It’s the largest ever ancient sculpture recovered, and it was reportedly carved from a single block of marble. It’s immense.
It depicts the myth of Dirce, wife of the King of Thebes. She persecuted Antiope and wanted to tie Antiope to the horns of a wild bull. However, Antiope’s sons tied Dirce herself to the wild bull instead, as revenge for how she had treated their mother.
I don’t know what this particular part of the sculpture depicts but… ouch!
The grapes, the horns, that dragon-like creature he’s resting on – probably Bacchus.
I have no idea what this is. A gnome?? Will we ever find out?
Perhaps even more amazing than the sculptures to me are the mosaics. The attention to detail needed to put all these minuscule tiles together to form big pictures like that – it’s incredible.
The highlight of the mosaics is probably the giant Alexander Mosaic.
This was originally a floor mosaic, recovered from the House of Faun in Pompeii. It depicts a battle between Alexander the Great (below) and King Darius of Persia.
Alexander is riding his famous horse Bucephalus, with his gaze focused on the Persian king on the chariot. See Medusa on Alexander’s breastplate?
Look at how tiny the tiles are!
This fresco was interesting because it shows a gladiator fight going on in the Amphitheatre of Naples while fighting was also breaking out on the streets. This was actually a riot in AD 59 between the Pompeiians and the residents of Nuceria. As punishment, the Roman Senate banned similar events in Pompeii for 10 years (among other things).
For a detailed analysis of the painting and its background, I recommend checking this article out.
The 3-D effect of this painting is impressive.
This gallery houses a collection of (pretty explicit) erotic art from Pompeii and Herculaneum. There is a minimum age requirement – something like visitors under 14 need to be accompanied by an adult to visit this exhibit. I’m not sure if this would even be exhibited in my country, and if it were, there would definitely be a blanket ban on all people below 18 or 21. An interesting look into an aspect of Roman life which is rarely talked about. I’ve no pictures, but Hole in the Donut has a detailed article on it and how Roman culture evolved over time, so what we see here (at the time of Mount Vesuvius’ eruption in AD 79) isn’t representative of Roman culture later on.
(Sarcophagi or sarcophaguses? Apparently both are acceptable, but I’m going with sarcophagi because it sounds cooler. And scarier.)
There are a bunch of these on the ground floor of the museum, lining the hallway next to the garden. Not sure why that’s a good place to put stone coffins, but I’ll leave it to the professionals.
Don’t worry, they’re empty (I checked).
Here’s a particularly creepy one (in my opinion):
As with almost all museums I visit, I left here with a tinge of regret at not having seen everything. If you’re in Naples, I think it’s well worth spending some time here.
Opening hours: 9am – 7.30pm, all days except Tuesday
Address: Piazza Museo Nazionale 19
Metro: Museo, Piazza Cavour
Fee: adult/reduced €8/4
What’s your favourite museum in the world? Let me know about it in the comments! I’d love to check it out sometime.
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