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  • Writer's pictureBen West

A Brief History of the National Archaeological Museum in Florence

What is the National Archaeological Museum?

The National Archaeological Museum is Florence's main archaeological museum, housed in a fine 17th-century palace.

National Archaeological Museum

National Archaeological Museum History

Florence’s National Archaeological Museum displays an amazingly rich collection of Etruscan, Greek, Egyptian and Roman antiquities. Although the exhibition halls are arranged in the style of a contemporary museum, this is in fact one of the oldest museums in the whole of Italy. A tour of the Egyptian mummies, Etruscan sarcophagi, Roman sculptures, and many other artefacts will give you a vivid glimpse of several ancient cultures and offer something of interest to any age.

The Etruscan collection includes numerous pieces produced with formidable workmanship and artistic skill, such as the sarcophagus of Larthia Seianti, a wealthy woman depicted adorned in sumptuous clothing and jewellery, which dates from the 2nd century BC. There’s the statue of The Orator, a life-size bronze sculpture of an Etruscan man wearing a Roman toga, from the 1st century BC, and the Chimera of Arezzo, a large bronze monster with a lion's head and body, a goat's head on its back, and a serpent's tail, discovered in 1553 near a town gate of Arezzo, here in Tuscany.

The Roman section includes the Idolino, a 146-centimetre-high bronze statue of a young man, that’s copied from a classical Greek original. It was discovered in 1530 in a Roman villa in Pesaro, and is thought to have served as a lampstand at dinner parties. There’s also the Minerva of Arezzo, a bronze Roman copy of a Greek model from the 4th century BC that has been attributed to the famous ancient sculptor Praxiteles.

The Greek artefacts include many ceramics including vases that generally came from Etruscan tombs, demonstrating mercantile and cultural exchange with Greece, around the 4th century BC. Most notable of these is a large black-figure krater, used for mixing wine and water at banquets, that dates from around 2,500 years ago. It even shows the signature of the potter, Ergotimos, and the painter, Cleitias. There’s an athlete’s torso from the 5th century BC carved from stone, and a large Hellenistic horse’s head, a fragment of an equestrian statue.

The museum’s Egyptian relics range from the prehistoric era through to the Coptic period and include mummies, statues, canopy vases, amulets, sarcophagi, a New Testament papyrus, carved slabs known as stele, and a wooden war chariot. Made from bone and wood, the 3,000-year-old chariot is virtually intact and includes a bow and arrow.

Once you’ve wandered through its halls, you can enjoy the museum’s garden, originally belonging to a Medici palace. It acts as an outdoor exhibition space for Etruscan funeral monuments, such as tombs and sarcophagi.

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