Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Archaeological Museum of Milan and free entrance to Milan's civic museums until September 8, thanks to ENI

A lovely Saturday, a bit of free time (finally!), and I think of you! After the museums at the Sforza Castle and the museum dedicated to modern art in the first half of the 20th century, the next in my tour for you of museums in Milan is the wonderful Archaeological Museum of Milan, the perfect place to start your tour of Milan because......More...... offers layers of millennia of history at your fingertips, and will give you a good panorama in which to insert everything else you learn about this wonderful city.

The museum--snuggled into early 16th century Renaissance additions to the ex-Monastero Maggiore ('the biggest/most important monastery') of S. Maurizio whose history stretches back into the early Medieval Longobard and Carolingian periods--straddles the ancient Roman Republican era city walls (1st C B.C.-1st C A.D.) and the Imperial era city walls and circus built onto the imperial palace (late 3rd C. A.D. to early 5th C. A.D.). On your way in, or out, don't miss examining the beautiful pieces in the initial courtyard. (The large rock from Valcamonica with pre-historic carvings has been returned to that area.)

HELPFUL DETOUR. Entering already costs very little, but this is at least the second summer that entrance to this and other civic museums is offered free-of-charge by ENI, the Italian oil company. This project is called "arte aperta," but info in English is as scarce as hen's teeth. Here's the scoop. From the 19th of July until the 8th of September, entrance to the following civic museums of Milan is free thanks to a generous contribution of ENI (don't bother going to their web site, though...can't find anything about this wonderful project, be it in Italian, or in English, and the website of the city of Milan offers only basic standard info in English):

- Museo del Novecento
- Museo Archeologico
- Museo del Risorgimento
- Museo di Storia naturale
- Musei del Castello Sforzesco (Museo d’Arte antica, Pinacoteca, Museo delle Arti decorative, Museo degli strumenti musicali, Raccolte extraeuropee, Museo egizio, Raccolte archeologiche preistoria e protostoria)
- Acquario civico
- Galleria d’Arte Moderna
- Palazzo Morando (this one has a fascinating collection of historic paintings of Milan, so you can see what the city looked like before photography).

Now for the tour of the museum. Start in the central area by examining the model of Milan in ancient Roman times (we had a stone amphitheater, a stone arena, an imperial palace, a circus, and all sorts of other practical civic and private small shakes!). The museum was reorganized in ca. 2011, but there is a large area in the basement that still hasn't reopened. They've moved a lot of the displays to other areas, but it was interesting to see the remains of the Republican walls. Does anyone know what the plans are for that area?

I suggest that you then head through the 'new' ground floor displays, first, for a good overview of ancient Milan. It's small, but delightful, and full of natural light. The new cases and displays are often imaginatively done, and there's a little bit for everyone: sculpture, portraiture, floor mosaics, glass, ceramics, jewelry, writing, coins, social history, and a small frescoed altar miraculously preserved. The information placques are a bit long-winded, and only partially translated into English, but they're quite nicely done, otherwise.

Next, head out into the courtyard. Just in front of the backside of the museum are the uncovered foundations of an ancient Roman home, built just outside the Republican city walls, then covered up for the creation of the imperial era circus.

Under the Renaissance portico are ancient Roman grave markers, some with quite touching messages. Turn the corner, and walk the short uncovered distance to...

...the imperial era multi-faceted defensive wall tower.

In it was created a chapel for the nuns during the Medieval period. The restored frescoes are finally open to the public.

Back outside the chapel, continue on through the opening in the ancient walls and into the 'new' museum display areas opened up on three floors of an adjacent building, yeah! Each of the floors has been designed wisely with a glass seating area to admire the multi-faceted tower and...

...the square tower of the 'carceres' of the ancient Roman circus. The tower was reputedly repaired and turned into a bell tower by bishop Ansperto (869-881)--also responsible for adding the closed courtyard onto Sant'Ambrogio--and so bears his name.

In the new structure, the collections have been divided into Greek, Etruscan and early medieval. It's rather hard to choose just one object to entice you to go for yourself, but I settled on this very rare, because wooden, Etruscan burial urn jar top from the 7th century B.C. Pretty amazing. What else is there to see? Beautiful majolica of all epochs, little tanagra figurines, theater masks, a few jewelry pieces and small jointed dolls, votive sculptures, burial urns, sculptures, swords and helmets, and three scientifically reconstructed early medieval likenesses created and dressed in life-size (those are a bit eery, but might be particularly fun for the kids). There even are a very few Egyptian things; most of this collection is in the Egyptian museum in the Sforza Castle. (Want a sneak peek at the Egyptian museum at the Sforza Castle? See my post about a rainy day in May.)

Before leaving the museum, the ground floor has a bookshop enlarged when the museum was renovated. There are only a couple of postcards, though (boo-hoo!).

Well, well, well, that's about it, right?


They've wisely re-opened a door (hard to the left, just after entering the museum) between the structure now housing the museum and the early 16th century church of S. Maurizio completely carpeted with gorgeous frescoes dating mostly up to the third quarter of the 16th century...quite an eyeful not to be missed...but a whole other post for another day. Access to the church is available directly from the street, too, but you'll have to climb up a few stairs (though, come to think of it, there might be a ramp instead of stairs connecting the museum and the nun's private area of the church, so, if you're in a wheelchair, you might be able to see at least that).

Access to the museum is a bit more handicapped-friendly. There are elevators for those not willing, or able, to do the stairs in the two main structures of the museum. On the back of the museum is a small moveable platform for lifting wheelchairs up the half dozen steps to get visitors up to the ground floor. Please contact the museum ahead of time to make'll probably have to find someone to help you talk in Italian: tel. 02.88465720, fax 02 88465721. If you don't know anyone who speaks Italian, try showing up with a picture of the wheelchair to send into the museum with someone able to do the half-dozen stairs at the principal entry on Corso Magenta, 15, not far from bus stops for the 16 and 27 lines.

Once you've finished, if you'd like to snoop into the nun's larger Renaissance courtyard, you'll have to do it from the street, right across via Luini (opened in the late 19th century) from the side flank of the church. It's rather plain, but interesting, nonetheless.

Archaeological Museum at Corso Magenta 15 (near stops for lines 16 and 27 of the tram; open 9 A.M. to 5:30 P.M., every day except Monday and certain public holidays).

So, with this celebratory platter dedicated to Cybele coming from nearby Parabiago and dating touchingly to the last breaths of paganism in the late 4th century A.D., it's time to say goodbye to the Archaeological Museum of Milan, I hope I've sparked your interest, it's truly worth a few hours.

Want more info about ancient Roman Milan? See my post wishing happy birthday to Rome.


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