Italy’s Top Museums: My Top Five

Now just in case you’re thinking: “Great a boring list of museums!” – never fear! I’ve also included interesting facts about them, because I find mere lists pretty boring too. So read on and discover what makes these five museums (out of Italy’s more than 3,000) special! Why, for instance, the artist credited with making one of the museums so famous never even wanted to take the job!

Top 5 Museums: My Picks

Italy has more than 3000 museums to visit. A treasure trove that never runs out!

In many ways Italy itself is a walking museum, so rich in history, archeology, and ancient towns. But there are also more than 3000 actual museums to visit.

1. The Vatican Museums

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

Many think his ceiling painting of the Last Judgement 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. Even so it must have been uncomfortable! In fact, in 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!

And 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 for the moment when the chimney will start emitting white smoke instead of black. Signaling that the new pope has been chosen. Imagine finding yourself visiting the Vatican in one of those historic moments!


2. The Uffizi in Florence

Florence’s Uffizi art gallery is one of the world’s oldest and most famous museums.

Built by the Medici family as offices for Florentine judges, the name uffizi actually means offices. But over time, it became a display place for the family’s many paintings and sculptures. An artwork collection which became so huge they had to move many pieces to other museums!

But one of the special characteristics of the building is its long internal courtyard, which architectural historians define as Europe’s first regularized streetscape. A streetscape is a method of designing urban streets and roads so as to improve conditions for both street users and nearby residents.

And this long narrow courtyard, open to the sky, and with the Arno River visible through a Doric screen at its far end, certainly does present a picturesque view from inside. And street pedestrians also get to enjoy a peek into the pretty courtyard with its stately columns and cornices.


3. The Accademia in Venice

The Accademia art museum, also in Vencie, contains the largest Venetian art collection in Venice, as well as other famous paintings.

Accademia (Venice)

But what makes this museum interesting is that it’s housed in the Scuola della Carità, a complex comprising both the Church of Santa Maria della Carità and the Canonici Lateranensi Monastery.

Making it even more unusual, it originally shared the building with the Venetian Art Academy, Academia di Belle Arti. Until that school eventually transferred to the former Hospital of the Incurables.


4. Naple’s Archeological Museum

With its large collection of Roman artifacts, the National Archeological Museum in Naples is 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.)


5. Santa Maria della Scala in Siena

One of Italy’s most interesting museums because of it’s original history. It was once of Europe’s first hospitals!

It is one of the oldest surviving hospitals in the world. Locals, in fact, often refer to the musuem as The Hospital. A charity hospital, it cared for abandoned children, the poor, the sick, and pilgrims.

But it seems that more than just the building survived. Invalids and children under 11 can now enter the museum free of charge! So 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?

Images: Us in Rome by our friend Maurizio; all rights reserved. | Rome sights graphic by Memed Nurrohmad.|Vatican ceiling by DEZALB. | Uffizi museums by Mariamichelle | Venice art academy by Didier Descouens from Wikipedia; CC-BY-SA 4.0 | Naples archeological museum by Pascvii | Santa Maria della Scala by ZsuzsiBogar.

Published by Signora Sheila

I am a wife, mom, nonna, blogger, and missionary in Italy. But really, I'm just an ordinary woman on a journey, trying to slow down enough to hear the still small voice of God and live for all that is truly important in this world.

4 thoughts on “Italy’s Top Museums: My Top Five

  1. I love museums! (My family teases me about reading all the plaques.) Thank you for the virtual tour, Sheila. A person could make a study of just the architecture of these buildings. Stunning!

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    1. Yes, they could, Nancy. Italy is so rich in these kinds of treasures! It has a lot of history, just waiting to be discovered and explored. And actually, just strolling the streets is a history lesson! You should come over and explore!

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