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Museo Archeologico Nazionale

Ancient treasures

Ara Grimani, 1st century AD, in the museum

Behind the Sala Grande of the Biblioteca Marciana is this excellent but still relatively unknown museum, which re-opened in 1999 after major renovations. The itinerary here is a bit confusing, but the useful brochures in English, French and German will help.

The museum was founded in 1523, when Cardinal Domenico Grimani left the State his impressive collection of Greek and Roman sculpture. A set of colossal 4th-century AD marble toes in the first room is followed by an extensive Roman coin collection, with some massive pieces guaranteed to put holes in a toga pocket (if togas had had pockets).

Among the Roman works are three fine copies of the Gallic Warriors, presented by Attalos of Pergamon to Athens; a votive relief to Cybele, and a winsome bust of a boy from the 2nd century BC. Among the busts there’s one of Pompey looking troubled, Caligula as an all-American football hero, the kind of boy you might bring home to meet your mother, though perhaps most memorable of all is the bust of the bloated Emperor Vitellus, antiquity’s most legendary trencherman.

Other highlights include the erotic Ara Grimani in Room 6, and a 2nd-century sarcophagus with a naval battle, and the 5th-century AD Capsella di Samagher, an intricately carved ivory casket, featuring on the back a rare scene of the presbytery of the first Basilica of St Peter's in Rome, with the Memoria Petri, the monument erected by Emperor Constantine on the tomb of St Peter that remained intact until the end of the 6th century.

There's a scene of the god Mithras, whose cult challenged Christianity in its early days, complete with his bull, dog, snake and scorpion; a porphyry bust of the priest Isaac that looks quite modern, and a couple of mummies in a small Egyptian collection.

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Hours Summer daily 10am-7pm, winter daily 10am-5pm

Adm €26, includes Palazzo Ducale, Marciana Library and Correr Musem; €13 for ages 6-14; students aged 15 to 25; and Italian citizens over 65

Piazzetta San Marco

Vaporetto: San Marco

+39 041 296 7663

Text © Dana Facaros and Michael Pauls

Image by GNU Free Documentation License