Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli ★★★

Part of the Collezione Farnese, Museo Archeologico, Naples, Italy (Photo by ho visto nina volare)
Part of the Collezione Farnese

The Archeological Museum of Naples is one of the top in Europe—and an absolute must if you are visiting Pompeii

This is one of the most significant archaeological collections in Europe (certainly Southern Italy's best), the only absolutely required sight in Naples, and well worth 2–3 hours of your time.

If you explore Pompeii without paying this museum a visit as well, you've missed out on half the riches. The best statues, mosaics, and wall paintings from Pompeii that could be carried off (and hadn't been already by looters) were long ago removed from the archaeological site to be preserved here.

The Pompeii riches take their place alongside finds from across Southern Italy as well as many from Rome itself (including the important and impressive statuary collected by the Farnese family).

The museum is poorly arranged and poorly labeled—though it has improved in recent years—but be sure to search out these highlights throughout the ill-lit rooms.

Highlights on the ground floor

The Doriforo, or Policleto's Spearman (a Pompeiian Roman copy of a 440 BC Greek original) is the most accurate surviving copy of a masterpiece by Policletus of Argo, one of the geniuses of Greek Golden Age sculpture. It represents Policletus' embodiment of the ideal human form, carved with exacting mathematical proportions and a perfect figurative balance.

The Pozzuoli Sarcophagus is a well-preserved AD 3rd-century Roman piece with a tumultuous high relief showing a seated, contemplative Prometheus creating Man surrounded by a swirl of gods and putti.

The massively burly Farnese Hercules was excavated from Rome's Baths of Caracalla and is a fine (Roman copy) example of the exaggerated AD 3rd-century Athenian style of the sculptor Glykon (who based his version on a work by Lysippos); the left forearm is restored in plaster.

Across the hall from it is the impressive Farnese Bull, also from the Baths of Caracalla, the largest surviving sculpture (13 feet tall) from the ancient world. It shows four figures struggling with a bull while a boy, a dog, and various flora and fauna sculpted into the base look on—all carved from a single, gargantuan block of marble. This AD 2nd-century Hellenistic work copies a 1st-century BC original and tells the tale of Amphion and Zethos (the two nude men) avenging the maltreatment of their mother Antiope (standing at the back) by tying her tormentor Dirke (the woman about to get trampled) to the horns of a bull she was preparing to sacrifice.

If you ever wondered what the famous Venus de Milo in Paris' Louvre looked like with arms, NaplesAphrodite of Capua is the most faithful of many reproductions (the armless beauty in the Louvre is just the most famous) of a 6th-century BC original by Greece's greatest sculptor, Praxiteles.

Nearby is the even more alluring Torso of Psyche, this one without arms or legs but with a perfectly modeled and smoothly polished nude torso, also a Roman copy of a Hellenistic original.

Mosaics and paintings from Pompeii on the mezzanine

On a mezzanine level between the ground and first floors (make sure you take the sweeping staircase on the left to gain access) is preserved the museum's most famous collection, the mosaics and paintings from Pompeii, including the slightly ruined but remarkably well-crafted Battle of Issus, a.k.a. the Battle of Alexander and Darius, discovered in the House of the Faun at Pompeii.

This scene, with a highly advanced use of color and minuscule mosaic chips to render the figures as well as any painting, depicts the Battle of Isse of 333 BC, Alexander astride his horse (on the left) giving chase to Darius who's retreating in his chariot. It's probably a Roman copy of an original that was crafted within a few decades of the actual battle.

Among the paintings here, be sure you don't miss the portrait of a young woman wearing a gold filigree hair net and pausing with her stylus to her lips as she collects her thoughts before returning to write in the wax volume she holds.

This must have been a standard pose, for it appears again in the portrait of Terentius Neo and his wife, (the man used to be identified as Paquio Proculo) a prosperous middle-class Pompeiian couple, probably bakers. This portrait from c. 55-79 AD was rather shocking when it was discovered in 1868, for it showed that interracial marriage was probably common (she appears to be European, he North African) in the ancient Empire.

Still more upstairs

Among the scads of fine bronze busts and statues of wrestlers and other athletes, you'll find the five oft-photographed Dancers of Herculaneum, or Peplophorai, from that city's Villa of the PapyrusThese five robed women, each striking a pose like a prototype for the Supremes or the Spice Girls, are early Roman bronzes done in the Greek style.

Also from the peristyle of Herculaneum's Villa dei Papiri are a pair of bronze athletes, usually identified as runners.

The collections are rounded out with Greek-era painted vases, engraved bronze pieces, an insanely detailed late–19C model of Pompeiiand several elaborate gladiator's helmets found there.

 
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Photo gallery
  • Part of the Collezione Farnese, Museo Archeologico, Italy (Photo by ho visto nina volare)
  • The exterior, Museo Archeologico, Italy (Photo by Istvánka)
  • The Toro Farnese, or Farnese Bull, early AD 3C, Museo Archeologico, Italy (Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen)
  • Another view of the Farnese Bull, Museo Archeologico, Italy (Photo by Peter1936F)
  • Hercules Farnese, Museo Archeologico, Italy (Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen)
  • Battle of Issus, a.k.a. the Battle of Alexander and Darius, mosaic from the 1C AD, Museo Archeologico, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • A detail of Alexander the Great from the Battle of Issus, a.k.a. the Battle of Alexander and Darius, mosaic from the 1C AD, Museo Archeologico, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • The Aphrodite of Capua, Museo Archeologico, Italy (Photo courtesy of the museum)
  • The Dioforo, Museo Archeologico, Italy (Photo courtesy of the museum)
  • The Pozzuoli Sarcophagus, Museo Archeologico, Italy (Photo courtesy of the museum)
  • The 2C BC statue of Atlas called the Farnese Atlas, Museo Archeologico, Italy (Photo by Lalupa)
  • The 19C model of Pompeii, Museo Archeologico, Italy (Photo by ho visto nina volare)
  • A detail of the 19C model of Pompeii, Museo Archeologico, Italy (Photo by Dieter Cöllen)
  • Portrait of a young girl, Museo Archeologico, Italy (Photo courtesy of the museum)
  • Portrait of Terentius Neo and his wife, until recently misidentified as Paquio Proculo and his wife, Museo Archeologico, Italy (Photo courtesy of the museum)
  • The Dancers from the Herculaneum Villa dei Papiri, Museo Archeologico, Italy (Photo courtesy of the museum)
  • A pair of bronze athletes, usually identified as runners, Museo Archeologico, Italy (Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen)
  • A detail of a bronze athlete, usually identified as a runner, Museo Archeologico, Italy (Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen)
  • Hermes at Rest from Herculaneum
  • Tazza Farnese, from the 2C BC, carved from sardonyx, Museo Archeologico, Italy (Photo by Ana al
  • Testina di Serapide, carved from agate, Museo Archeologico, Italy (Photo by Miguel Hermoso Cuesta)
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How long does Museo Archeologico take?

Figure on spending at least 2–3 hours here—plus another 20–30 minutes each way just to get there, as it's a bit out of the center.

Useful Italian phrases

Useful Italian for sightseeing

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is?... Dov'é doh-VAY
...the museum il museo eel moo-ZAY-yo
...the church la chiesa lah key-YAY-zah
...the cathedral il duomo [or] la cattedrale eel DUO-mo [or] lah cah-the-DRAH-leh
     
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
Closed day giorno di riposo JOR-no dee ree-PO-zo
Weekdays (Mon-Sat) feriali fair-ee-YA-lee
Sunday & holidays festivi fe-STEE-vee
     
ticket biglietto beel-YET-toh
two adults due adulti DOO-way ah-DOOL-tee
one child un bambino oon bahm-BEE-no
one student uno studente OO-noh stu-DENT-ay
one senior un pensionato oon pen-see-yo-NAH-toh

Basic phrases in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
How much is it? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
     
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
Excuse me (to get past someone) Permesso pair-MEH-so
     
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...the bathroom il bagno eel BHAN-yoh
...train station la ferroviaria lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
information informazione in-for-ma-tzee-OH-nay

Days, months, and other calendar items in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
At what time... a che ora a kay O-rah
     
Yesterday ieri ee-YAIR-ee
Today oggi OH-jee
Tomorrow domani doh-MAHN-nee
Day after tomorrow dopo domani DOH-poh doh-MAHN-nee
     
a day un giorno oon je-YOR-no
Monday Lunedí loo-nay-DEE
Tuesday Martedí mar-tay-DEE
Wednesday Mercoledí mair-coh-lay-DEE
Thursday Giovedí jo-vay-DEE
Friday Venerdí ven-nair-DEE
Saturday Sabato SAH-baa-toh
Sunday Domenica doh-MEN-nee-ka
     
Mon-Sat Feriali fair-ee-YAHL-ee
Sun & holidays Festivi feh-STEE-vee
Daily Giornaliere joor-nahl-ee-YAIR-eh
     
a month una mese oon-ah MAY-zay
January gennaio jen-NAI-yo
February febbraio feh-BRI-yo
March marzo MAR-tzoh
April aprile ah-PREEL-ay
May maggio MAH-jee-oh
June giugno JEW-nyoh
July luglio LOO-lyoh
August agosto ah-GO-sto
September settembre set-TEM-bray
October ottobre oh-TOE-bray
November novembre no-VEM-bray
December dicembre de-CHEM-bray

Numbers in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 uno OO-no
2 due DOO-way
3 tre tray
4 quattro KWAH-troh
5 cinque CHEEN-kway
6 sei say
7 sette SET-tay
8 otto OH-toh
9 nove NO-vay
10 dieci dee-YAY-chee
11 undici OON-dee-chee
12 dodici DOH-dee-chee
13 tredici TRAY-dee-chee
14 quattordici kwa-TOR-dee-chee
15 quindici KWEEN-dee-chee
16 sedici SAY-dee-chee
17 diciasette dee-chee-ya-SET-tay
18 diciotto dee-CHO-toh
19 diciannove dee-chee-ya-NO-vay
20 venti VENT-tee
21* vent'uno* vent-OO-no
22* venti due* VENT-tee DOO-way
23* venti tre* VENT-tee TRAY
30 trenta TRAYN-tah
40 quaranta kwa-RAHN-tah
50 cinquanta cheen-KWAN-tah
60 sessanta say-SAHN-tah
70 settanta seh-TAHN-tah
80 ottanta oh-TAHN-tah
90 novanta no-VAHN-tah
100 cento CHEN-toh
1,000 mille MEEL-lay
5,000 cinque milla CHEEN-kway MEEL-lah
10,000 dieci milla dee-YAY-chee MEEL-lah


* You can use this formula for all Italian ten-place numbers—so 31 is trent'uno, 32 is trenta due, 33 is trenta tre, etc. Note that—like uno (one), otto (eight) also starts with a vowel—all "-8" numbers are also abbreviated (vent'otto, trent'otto, etc.).