Art, Travel & Life in Italy & Europe

Archaeology in the garden – a unique museum experience in Florence

As you walk down the streets of Florence, you’ll occasionally peek through a gate or doorway and see some of the city’s hidden gardens. The large green space behind a fence on via della Colonna, across the street from the side of the Ospedale degli Innocenti, belongs to Florence’s Archaeology Museum, whose ancient sculpture collection I wrote about recently. This is not just your average attractive shrubbery: the garden is an integral part of the museum’s collection history. Created at a time in which it was considered acceptable to move artworks from their original locations, the “archaeology garden” contains transported Etruscan tombs from around Tuscany, making for a unique and immersive art experience.

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In 1892, Luigi Adriano Milani, then director of Florence’s newly formed archaeological museum, wrote a letter to the government outlining his plans for the garden at Palazzo della Crocetta, a rectangular space across the street from the extended side of the Ospedale degli Innocenti. This area had been made into a garden already in the mid 18th century, when it received its regular English garden style beds from Boboli’s gardener, Francesco Romoli. But Milani’s plans now were to use this space as an open air museum, both for antique sculpture and for transported architecture.

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Original Roman sculpture!

The idea was to dismount certain Etruscan tombs found in remote areas of the Tuscan countryside and transport them to Florence, to this garden, where they could be admired by gentleman scholars. The criteria with which tombs were chosen was mainly if they were in areas that could not be sufficiently monitored or guarded (like the Maremma, then full of cowboys and theifs). Another factor certainly was diversity, since Milani wished to represent the different types tombs that the Etruscans built. Mlani’s architect carefully numbered stones and kept good track of things as he dismounted massive sites and rebuilt them in Florence, respecting Etruscan building techniques (with minimal insertion of modern materials). His plan was widely applauded by European scholars.

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In the garden, you’ll see and get to peek into the principle types of Etruscan tombs, which my guide explains to me are many, but seem to me to be primarily: camera (room), dado (dice), tumolo (mounds) and pozzetto (well). In the photos you’ll see some examples.

Tumulus tomb, if I'm not mistaken :)

Tumulus tomb, if I’m not mistaken :)

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Entrance and back of two tombs

My guide, Marina lo Blundo, with a dado tomb (right Marina??)

My guide, Marina lo Blundo, with a dado tomb (right Marina??)

The most exciting tomb is the Tomba Inghirami from Volterra, which actually is not transported architecture but reconstructed ex novo, since the actual tomb was built into the rock. However, you can enter this dark space and you’re faced with the original carved urns that were discovered in the tomb! They are of incredibly high quality and it’s hard to believe that they are basically stored in a hole in a garden.

Inside the Inghirami tomb - original urns

Inside the Inghirami tomb – original urns

Walking into the tomb

Walking into the tomb

The garden, as you can imagine, evolves with the seasons and is beautifully kept up by a gardener with a great touch for flowers. The “archaeological garden” is certainly a unique experience in Florence, where you can learn about Etruscan history by walking in it, while a well-informed guide explains it to you.

Spring flowers in the garden

Spring flowers in the garden

Visitor information

The garden is open regularly only on Saturday mornings, and is accessed with an obligatory guided tour included in the museum ticket price.

When the weather is good, as it has been often this Spring, the garden is open when there is sufficient museum staff. You can call ahead (055 23575) the day of, or send a tweet to @MAF_Firenze.

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ArtSmart Roundtable

This post is part of a monthly collaboration between art bloggers who write about a common topic. May’s theme is “an art experience”. See what my colleagues write about their art experiences by checking out their posts.

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By: arttrav

Alexandra Korey aka ArtTrav is a Florence-based art historian and arts marketing consultant.

  • Christina

    I love this garden! What a great idea to bring isolated Etruscan tombs to Florence. I’m glad the relocation was done carefully and purposefully. It’s always an experience to see art in situ; the recreated Tomba Inghirami from Volterra is just beautiful. I’m really struck by the density of sarcophogi, their arrangement, and the overall interior space of this tomb.

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful hidden treasure! I’ll definitely be visiting the Archaeological Museum next time I’m in Florence!

  • http://www.arttrav.com arttrav

    Thanks Christina – it is indeed a unique place! The museum will be happy to read that you’re heading their way :)

  • Jenna Francisco

    So interesting. The wealth of treasures in Florence never ceases to amaze me. I agree though…it’s a little worrisome that those urns are just being stored in a large hole. It must get musty in there!

  • Lesley Peterson

    Lovely photos, Alexandra. I read a lot of landscape gardening history books and really enjoyed this post. It sounds as though they did a marvelous job of relocating the tombs and other sculpture and probably saved it all from being stolen unnoticed in remote locations. The garden looks a rare combination of enchantment and opportunity for learning. A peaceful place to relax away from the tourist hordes, too!

  • http://ornamentalist.net Ludmilla

    That museum is really quite excellent, and you’d never know it from the entrance or even the entire ground floor which is a bit of a mess. But once upstairs it’s amazing. On several visits no staff or handout even mentioned the garden, but that was because in the winter it’s pretty much closed. I assumed the mounds outside were grottoes or something. It was only after I wandered out there that someone told me what was in them and offered to show me around. Thrilling, really! Thanks for sharing these excellent photos!

  • http://www.arttrav.com arttrav

    Hi “Ludmilla”,
    I fully agree that “upon first glance” this museum can be disappointing. And as first impressions are important, the entrance and first floor are truly unfortunate. There are a few members of the staff that are trying to move into the future, but unfortunately major change can only happen from above…
    AMK

  • StephinOttawa

    No…I didn’t know about this and I pass it all the time on my way to sit in the Piazza d’Azeglio when I am in Florence. Will have to let Gianni know as well. Thanks for the information.