You probably already know that Italy is a land of museums. But did you know there are over 3000? And that the best time to visit them is in Autumn? Autumn here is usually warm, balmy, and without hordes of tourists! So come on over! 

Perhaps you’re thinking, “Great a boring list of museums!” But never fear! I’ve included interesting finds about them too, because I find mere lists pretty boring too!  So read on, and learn what makes these museums special! Learn, for instance, why the man who made one of Italy’s museums famous never even wanted the job!

The Vatican Museums

The most visited of the museums, they are a veritable treasure trove of art work. especially Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel.

Many think his painting of the Last Judgement on the chapel’s ceiling is both the museum’s best and Michelangelo’s greatest achievement.

But did you know that Michelangelo never wanted the job of painting the frescoes? He considered himself a sculptor not a painter!

Wow, not bad from a non-painter! Wouldn’t you agree?

And another interesting fact: Contrary to popular belief, Michelangelo did not paint the ceiling frescos lying down, but standing on special scaffolding. But it must have still given him a stiff neck! In fact, describing the work, he said it caused him to grow a goiter, squashed his stomach up under his chin, and knotted his spine all up. He did not seem to enjoy the job!

But the Chapel has another important item too: a special chimney!

It lets the world know when a new pope has been elected. Ever since 1492, the Catholic church elects new popes in the chapel, during closed elections. While the outside world eagerly watches the moment when the chimney starts emitting white smoke instead of black, signaling that a new pope has been chosen. Imagine finding yourself at the Vatican in one of those historic moments!

The Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence

It’s one of the world’s oldest and most famous museums.

The name Uffizi means Offices. The Medici family built it as offices for Florentine judges. Over time, it became a display place for the family’s many paintings and sculptures. An artwork collection that became so huge they had to move many pieces to other museums!

But one of the special characteristics of the building is its huge internal courtyard. Architectural historians call this huge courtyard the first regularized streetscapes* of Europe. Particularly because its far end is open, with the Arno River visible through a Doric screen.

*Note: Streetscape refers to a method of designing urban streets and roads so that they will improve conditions of both the street users and the nearby residents. And this courtyard-street does indeed present a pretty view!

The Accademia in Venice

This art museum has a rich collection of famous paintings, both Venetian and non. But what makes this museum interesting is that it’s actually housed in what was once an art school. And making it even more unusual, the church of Santa Maria and the monastery of the Canonici Lateranensi, are both integral parts of the Accademia.

The National Archeological Museum in Naples

With its large collection of Roman artifacts, it’s one of the most important archeological museums in the world.

It holds many unique treasures, such as rare artifacts from Pompeii, and a cork model of the city destroyed by the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.

Although kids, in particular, may enjoy the Egyptian Collection with its  gruesome mummies. This museum holds the 2nd largest collection of Egyptian artifacts in Italy. (Only the Egyptian Museum in Turin has more.)

Santa Maria della Scala in Siena

I think this is the most interesting of the Italian museums, because of its original history. It now holds many famous frescoes and art pieces, but was one of Europe’s first hospitals! In fact, locals often refer to it as The Hospital. A charity hospital, it cared for abandoned children, the poor, the sick, and pilgrims.

It is one of the oldest surviving hospitals in the world.

But perhaps more than just the building survived. Because invalids and children under 11 can now enter the museum free of charge! Perhaps the caring spirit of the hospital, which was run on donations, lives on! And isn’t that really what museums are all about? Making history live?

History has much to teach us, and museums are a great way to learn more! What have they taught you?

Image credits:

Us in Rome by our friend Maurizio in Rome; all rights reserved.
All others via Vatican Museum, Florence Uffizi Gallery, Naples Archeological Museum, Santa Maria Siena; under the CC0 license.

Posted by Sheila Scorziello

American born, Italian at heart. Happily married over 40 years, living in Italy almost 30. Mom of two and nonna to 9 grandkids. Missionary with a passion for showing God's love in practical ways, honoring God by caring for his creation, and helping others taste and see that the Lord is good!

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