Friday 5 June 2009

Herculanense Museum - open for visits on Thursdays until 16 July 2009

In a previous post I mentioned the inauguration of the new Herculanense Museum at Portici Royal Palace. Although I attended the opening, after waiting in the over-crowded hall through hours of political speeches, I had to go back to work before they allowed anyone into the actual museum. In addition, it became apparent that although funding had been obtained to restore a section of the palace and install the new exhibits, there was no funding to keep the museum open - and indeed its future is uncertain given that there are no permanent staff (custodians or cleaning staff) for this new facility and it will be closed until a solution is found.

However, those interested in visiting can take advantage of the fact that it will be open for a short period: Thursdays (9am-4pm) until 16 July. Entry is free. Groups can call in advance and book a guided tour (and I believe it is sometimes possible to get a group visit on other days if you give enough warning). More information can be found on the Soprintendenza's website.

So yesterday my colleagues and I went back to see exactly what this new museum has to offer.
The first thing to understand is that the museum is largely "virtual". Actual original finds are limited to one original Roman statue ("Flora", which had decorated a fountain in the palace's park until recently), a nice collection of books dating roughly to the Grand Tour and describing the Vesuvian sites' antiquities, and some modern/traditional sculptor's tools.
The rest of the displays use multimedia and audiovisual techniques to explain the theme of the museum: the Bourbon royal collection of antiquities from Herculaneum and Pompeii.
The panels are well written in Italian and well translated into English, and explain the origins of the palace, the Bourbon fascination with the early Vesuvian excavations, the display of finds within the palace, the dissemination of information, the Grand Tour, early restoration techniques, and so on.
Interactive touch screens, models and other displays stop the museum from simply being a collection of written texts.
The short films that are shown on a loop are unfortunately only in Italian, but the best one - showing how frescoes were detached from walls - is clear enough to be of interest to those who can't understand the audio.
Although not all perfect (some signs that the exhibition material was created by architects with limited input by archaeologists), and with perhaps too much text to read everything, this is a very interesting attempt to explain the early fascination with Herculaneum and Pompeii and their impact on European culture.

Also currently on display is a temporary exhibition by the Vegetation History and Wood Anatomy Laboratory of the University of Naples "Federico II", which also has its home in the royal palace. The three rooms offer a short overview of current knowledge of the Vesuvian landscape, and in particular archeobotanical studies.

Where: Portici, Royal Palace
When: Thursdays until 16 July 2009, 9.00 - 16.00
Price: free entry
Information: (+39) 0815808390 or

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