In Turin, Italy — Sarcophagi and Palazzi
Who knew that the oldest major collection of Ancient Egyptian archeology and anthropology in the world was in Italy!
The Musei Egizio (or Egyptian Museum) of Turin dates back to 1753, when an expedition funded by King Emanuelle III returned from Egypt with 300 artifacts from the Karnak temple complex. The collection grew with additional expeditions over the centuries. Today, with well over 30,000 artifacts, it is considered the second most important Egyptology collection in the world, after the Egyptian Museum of Cairo.
The pieces on display represent all periods and dynasties of Egyptian civilization from the Paleolithic and pre-dynastic periods to the Old, Middle and New Kingdoms, and the Ptolemaic and Roman eras.
A Pantheon of Divinities
The vast galleries are filled with treasures ranging from votive statuettes in gold, bronze and basalt to gigantic stone statues. They represent the numerous gods and goddesses of the Egyptian pantheon such as Sekhmet, Ptah, Amen-Ra, Anubis, Horus and Bastet. Sculptures and stelae also memorialize the legendary Pharaohs such as Horemheb, the Ramesses, and Seti, and the powerful military and priestly elite class.
Smaller artifacts also offer moving glimpses of the everyday life of ordinary people in ancient Egypt. These include sandals, pottery shards decorated with erotic images, musical instruments, miniature funerary models, dresses, sewing needles, children’s toys, and even foods such as bread.
Millenia of Funerary Treasures
Thousands of years of diverse funerary rites practiced by ancient Egyptian civilizations are showcased here. Mummies include examples of the unbandaged dead of pre-dynastic Egypt (preserved as a result of the arid desert environment), as well as the iconic linen-bandaged mummies of the Old Kingdom, and the cartonnage masked mummies of the Middle and New Kingdom periods. Of exceptional note is the display of funerary and domestic items from the 1400 BC tomb of royal architect Kha and his wife Merit, including the exquisite gold-leaf and glass rendering of Merit’s portrait on her cartonnage sarcophagus.
Despite its longstanding history and its headquarters in the 17th century Palazzo delle Accademia delle Scienze, the museum offers the latest trends in scenography and immersive visitor experience. Remodeled in 2015 by Oscar-winning set designer Dante Ferretti, the 9,000 square meter (97,000 square foot) exhibition space spreads over four levels, three above ground and one below, organized in chronological order from the top, along a 2.5 kilometer (1.5 mile) circuit.
Officially the Museo Civico d’Arte Antica (or Municipal Museum of Ancient Arts) since 1934, but still best known by its centuries-old moniker of Palazzo Madama, this museum traces the history of Turin from its Roman beginnings to the19th century.
In the 1st century BC the Romans established the strategic castrum (military defense complex) of Augusta Taurinorum, the present day Turin. The site of what would become the palace was then occupied by the main gate in the Roman wall. Two of its towers still testify to this original nucleus. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the gate developed into a fortified stronghold during the Middle Ages. It ultimately became the residence of the Princes of Acaia (a side branch of the Savoy ruling family), who in the 15tn century transformed it into the palace we see today, with two polygonal towers mirroring those of the Roman era, and a third tower in the central courtyard.
The Touch of the Madama
The name of the building, however, refers the Madame Royale title of two women, Marie Christine of France and Marie Jeanne Baptiste of Savoy-Nemours, who throughout the 17th century successively occupied the palace while serving as Regent for their respective minor sons (Charles Emmanuel II and Victor Amadeus II). They were the driving force behind an extensive modernization project that turned the old fortress into a baroque masterpiece, culminating in the construction of the grand staircase and the elegant facade by one of the most influential architects of the era, the Italian Filippo Juvarra.
Since 1934, the Palazzo has housed the city’s rich collection of Ancient Arts.
A Time-Travel Experience
The history of the palace is retraced along a four-floors itinerary starting with the Roman age foundations, the deepest ones now topped with a glass pathway that allows visitors to appreciate the massive construction beneath their feet. Important works exhibited in the underground rooms include sculptures, mosaics and finds from the early centuries of the Middle Ages: remarkable pieces of late Roman and Ostrogoth works in gold and silver; rare examples of Romanesque mosaic with black and white tiles and ancient stoneworks, such as four capitals originally from the cloister of Sant’Orso in Aosta.
The ground floor is dedicated to the Gothic era, including important religious wooden furnishings from superb altar pieces and chancel furniture, to free-standing polychrome sculptures. There is also a comprehensive collection of illuminated manuscripts including a Bible of 13th century illuminated in Bologna, and a series of miniatures of great quality by the Master of the Book of Hours from Modena, an artist exceptionally versed in the international Gothic style of the late 14th century.
Stepping up to Baroque
Then it’s up the grand Juvarra staircase to the sumptuous Baroque world of the Madama. Here, lavishly decorated Royal Apartments display 17th and 18th century artworks, and the wonderful ceiling frescoes of the period. Then the third floor reveals a major collection of decorative arts: ceramics, works in ivory and gold, textiles, gilded glass, and paintings. Finally, visitors reach the Observation Tower — now mercifully accessible via elevator — for a panoramic view of the city and the surrounding countryside.
Good to Know
- Getting there — Located in the Piedmont region of northwestern Italy, in the foothills of the Alps, Turin is easily accessible by train or road from all other Italian cities. Its local airport, 15 km (9.3 mi) north of the city, supports scheduled flights to most European capitals. It’s about an hour’s drive on good mountain roads to the French border to the north and slightly more to the Mediterranean sea and the southern French border.
- Getting around — The center of the city is easily walkable. To explore farther afield, Turin also has an efficient, integrated system of buses, trams and metro.
- Visiting — The Egyptian Museum, Via Accademia delle Scienze 6, 10123 Torino, is open year-round, Tuesday through Sunday from 9:00 am to 6:30 pm and Monday from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm. It also occasionally offers extended hours indicated on its website. The Palazzo Madama , Museo Civico d’Arte Antica, Piazza Castello, 10122 Torino, is also open year-round, Wednesday through Monday from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. Closed on Tuesday.