LivingTravelNaples National Archaeological Museum

Naples National Archaeological Museum

The most amazing collection of treasures that I have seen under one roof is in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples. Even more incredible, the museum is often empty of visitors. It is almost a crime that few people visit this collection, so you should go right now.

Part of the reason this museum isn’t packed like it should be is that Naples is often just a starting point for travelers heading to Capri or the Amalfi Coast. Tourism to Naples has recently skyrocketed thanks to a phenomenon called “Ferrante Fever.” A quartet of novels by the pseudonymous Italian writer Elena Ferrante has inspired readers to visit Naples and see the sites so vividly described in the books. The museum is mentioned in the second novel in the “The Story of a New Name” series, when Elena, eager to get over her poor past, spends time at the museum to educate herself before leaving Naples for university in Pisa.

Pompeii is a short distance from Naples and the museum is the repository of the greatest treasures of Pompeii, Stabia and Herculaneum. Founded in the 1750s by the Bourbon King Carlos III of Spain, the building has also served as part of the University of Naples.

Here is a short list of what you will discover inside:

  • The Alexander mosaic, made for a house in Pompeii around 100 BC. C., represents a battle between Alexander the Great and Darius of Persia.
  • The Farnese Collection of Roman Copies of Greek Sculptures. The Hercules is the most famous, while the Bull and Artemis will surely be familiar to you as well.
  • The Secret Cabinet, a special gallery for adult visitors that contains all the pornographic art excavated in Pompeii.
  • Egyptian art from the ancient kingdom to the Ptolemaic period, the second largest collection in Italy.

One of the best travel experiences in Italy is a day in Pompeii followed by an evening at the Archaeological Museum and, of course, pizza.

  • Wait until the morning rush hour is over and take the Circumvesuviana train, accessible from the Napoli Centrale train station. This Circumvesuviana is essentially the commuter train line to the Naples suburbs, which, if you study Latin, circles Vesuvius. It stops frequently, although it only takes about 30-45 minutes to get to Pompeii Scavi. Because the rail line is local, you cannot buy tickets in advance on TrenItalia. Plan to spend a whole day.
  • They sleep in the next day, have lunch, then plan to spend the afternoon and evening in the museum, open every day until 7:30. Local school groups tend to go in the mornings, as do large tour groups led by cruise ship umbrellas.
  • During the evening hours, you will really have the museum to yourself. Individual time with many of the most important and famous works of art in Western art is a tremendous experience.
  • After the museum, I have dinner at my favorite pizzeria in Naples, Pizzeria Starita a Materdei. Mind you, Naples is the city that literally invented pizza, so saying this is my favorite is high praise. This pizzeria was the setting for “L’Oro di Napoli” when Sophia Loren disguises herself as a pizzeria. Today, he also has outposts in New York and Atlanta that I can verify, they are as good as the Neapolitan original. It is also within walking distance of the museum.

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What's inside the "Secret Cabinet" at the Naples Archaeological Museum?

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I had always wondered what it would be like to see Pompeii before the eruption of Vesuvius that destroyed it in AD 79. C. Interestingly, that wish was fulfilled in