A mecca of treasures

A mecca of treasures

When considering a trip to Bologna, the Archaeological Museum is hardly the place which springs to mind and yet, to savour the true identity and history of Bologna, a visit to this little jewel in the heart of the centre is a must.

A stone’s throw away from Piazza Maggiore lies a vault of treasures for scholars, lovers of history and art history. The collection would quench the thirst of any wanna-be Indiana Jones. After all, much of the collection which has been donated to the Museum was the result of tomb-raiding and purchases through private individuals. Some shady characters indeed. But let us begin this voyage of ours from the beginning.

The Museum was founded in September 1881 and two collections were merged to form the Museum’s collection of today. They were further enriched by the numerously fruitful excavations in and around the surrounding areas of Bologna.

And although a great number of items are on display, it is estimated that they total only 15% of the Museum’s actual collection. Many significant items linger in the Museum’s archives and storage facilities identified by numbers and endless cross-referencing to source documents; the latter themselves forming part of the historical fabric of this city.

Others, on the other hand, are being subjected to restoration. And not unlike Bologna herself, some pieces which were considered to be cornerstones in the Museum, permanent captions of precise moments of historical being, have revealed a much more perplexing existence under their surfaces. These are treasures housing treasures all cloaked in intrigue. 

Scholars are being forced to re-question theories of yester-year and reclassifying some of the Museum’s collection using modern day technology – infra-red lighting, DNA testing and ex-ray techniques. The collection therefore lends itself to an ever-evolving mystery with twists and turns along the way. Where are we being led and where does it stop ? Anybody’s guess but a good place is to start with the question – what does the Museum house?

The collections are organised in different geographical areas and periods and these are further subdivided into subject or time period categories. 

The Museum aims to trace the history of Bologna, surrounding areas and that of its citizens through time and its collection consists of local artifacts from prehistoric periods to the Roman Era.

The Egyptian collection is considered one of the most important in Europe with more than 3,500 objects on display including sarcophagi, mummified bodies of humans and animals (cats, crocodile) starting from the Ancient Kingdom to the Ptolemaic Era. There are funeral instruments, a vast collection of amulates and ancient scriptures on papyruses. More importantly, there are the finds Horembheb’s tomb of which originated from Saqquara in the 13th century BCE.

Perhaps the most underrated section is the Museum’s Etruscan collection. The artifacts cover a period from 9th century BCE to the founding of Felsina (Bologna in Etruscan times) and between the mid 6th century and 5th century BCE. 

The two tombs “Tomba grande” (Great Tomb) and the “Tomba dello sgabello” (Tomb of the footstool) found in a necropolis in Giardini Margherita are spectacular. Fine vases from Greece for drinking wine, luxury goods like a large candle holder or a seat made of ivory are on display. 

The Museum’s collection of Magna Grecia is rich and expansive. But perhaps the Crème de la crème, in the Museum are the statue and cuirass believed to be that of the Emperor Nero and the head of Lemnia Athena which was made by Fidia during the 5th Century BCE.

However, should your curiosity get the better of you, the Museum does organize children’s activities and adult conferences every weekend. Audio Guides are available in English. 

So, who would have thought that so much mystery, intrigue and debate could radiate from a place which almost – and I say almost – paradoxically prides itself as being under the radar. After all, it does loom in the wide spanning shadow of San Petronio.

by Sofia Parastatidou



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