When I begin to talk enthusiastically about the archeological museum in Reggio Calabria, I usually just get blank stares. If I show a photo or two of the famous Bronzes of Riace, interest piques. Once I have my listener’s attention, I introduce the rest of the museum’s collection.
Ranging from the prehistoric through the Roman period, the exhibits have recently been rearranged due to a complete renovation of the building. Since its reopening, the museum goes by different names and also sports the acronym MArRC, which I suppose is a hip way of saying Museo Archeologico Reggio Calabria. Often the word nazionale (national) is thrown in, indicating its important place as one of Italy’s national museums. Magna Grecia (Greater Greece) used to be in the title, and that is the period in which this wonderful cultural institution really shines.
I have a friend who refers to the general sort of collection found in such museums as “broken pots.” And I must admit that there are times when looking at vases and jars resembling bad jigsaw puzzles with missing pieces, I’ve scratched my head. But then I think about who had used that container, for what purpose and how many years ago? Moreover, there’s the craftsmanship and artistry to consider.
The Archeological Museum in Reggio Calabria is quite large, so in this post I’m just going to give a taste of what’s on display. These artifacts are a few of my favorites from the museum’s collection, which comes from all over Calabria.
This exquisite piece in bronze caught my eye on my very first visit and I never tire of looking at it. As with many objects in the museum, the schiaccianoci or nutcracker comes from a tomb. It was discovered in a burial site called Lucifero, which was located in the ancient city of Locri Epizephyrii within the current Province of Reggio Calabria. The specific tomb was that of a man and dates from 430-400 BC.
The nutcracker is an unusual piece and was found amidst objects that would have been used in the symposium, which was the part of the Greek and Roman banquet dedicated to wine drinking along with various entertainments, such as poetry recitation and convivial singing. Imagine passing such a lovely object around the table to crack open nuts, washed down by mouthfuls of wine tipped from an elegantly crafted drinking cup.
Oops, there goes one of those broken pots. This kylix has been put back together very nicely and was also found in the Lucifero necropolis in Locri. The aristocrats intended to enjoy the afterlife in style.
You may be asking how we know that the pair of slender hands, placed delicately one on top of the other, served to crack the ancients’ nuts. Incredibly, the nutcracker still retains its hinge. Try as I may, I couldn’t get an angle on that detail with the reflection on the glass, so you may just have to visit the archeological museum in Reggio Calabria to fully appreciate this gem in person.
The lepre or hare, a terracotta container that was also discovered in Locri, confirms the bounty of the upper class Greek table. Dating from the 6th-5th century BC, the hare would have been a votive offering as it was found in the Mannella Sanctuary. Objects in the shape of a rooster, wild boar and ram were also uncovered in this religious sanctuary.
The hare is depicted stretched out with its head back – captured in stride or splayed out as in a still life? Its body is scored to render a sense of the fur, and traces of paint can still be seen. Despite the rounded opening on the hare’s chest, there’s something quite natural about the form of this creature. I don’t know if I should pet it or eat it. Surely, something worthwhile would have been stored inside this graceful hare, frozen in pose for so many years.
Everybody loves a redhead, but how often do you get to see one from the late 6th-century BC? This marble statue is simply called Kouros, which means youth or boy in ancient Greek, and today it’s the word used to designate an archaic Greek statue of a young man.
The Kouros in the archeological museum in Reggio Calabria lost his lower legs and most of his arms, but he still cuts a handsome figure. He would have been freestanding with his left leg slightly forward, his arms were bent and he would have held something in each hand. His bright red hair with possibly a golden crown of laurel leaves and a painted face would have turned heads. But even as he is now, this Kouros draws you in with his full-lipped mysterious grin (known as an archaic smile in the art world) and his almond-shaped eyes that almost seem to twinkle.
If it hadn’t been for an observant member of Italy’s finance police, this statue may still have been in private hands today. At the time, the Kouros was on display in the home of a wealthy building contractor, who hadn’t reported its discovery on a construction site in Reggio’s city center around 1990. There’s no such thing as “finders – keepers” when it comes to Italian antiquities, contrary to the actions of many a “finder,” and the museum acquired it in the year 2000 after a long judicial process.
During the museum’s recent closure for renovations, the Kouros, along with the more famous Riace Bronzes, was studied in great detail, including 3-D laser scanning. The latter inspired a virtual reconstruction of what the Kouros would have looked like with regard to the positioning of the legs, arms, paint colors and head wreath. The conclusion was that the statue’s identity was the god Apollo. In the museum, a video screen set up next to the marble statue shows two hypothetical versions. Both place a bow in his right hand. In his left, one features a bowl representing a votive gift, and the other, a lyre, an element selected based on a local image from the period in which Apollo paid homage to the goddess Persephone and her abductor Hades.
What would the Kouros’ lyre have looked like? Well, the object in the following photo isn’t the reconstruction of another broken pot. It’s a turtle shell that was found in a burial site in Locri, and it served as the sound box for an ancient lyre.
THE GLASS CUP in the ARCHEOLOGICAL MUSEUM IN REGGIO CALABRIA
Probably the most incredible thing about this Roman glass cup is that it is completely intact. Referred to as the coppa di Varapodio, cup or small bowl from the town of Varapodio, this delicate object has been around since the 2nd century BC and was found during the excavation of a female tomb in 1904.
The coppa must have been a prized item of this wealthy woman, who was laid out in her final resting place with the glass cup placed near her head. Nearby, there was also a striking pair of gold earrings with an intricate decoration of an antelope’s head that I would be very pleased to have in my jewelry box.
The glass cup itself is actually in two layers with the gold leaf image sandwiched between them. There are two hunting scenes. The larger image depicts a horseman, spear poised, in pursuit of a leopard against the backdrop of an olive tree and two large birds. Lower down on the dish is a smaller, humbler scene of a bowman directing his arrow towards two gazelles and a dog or hare, all caught in a midair prance.
This fine Hellenistic cup, made of fragile glass yet amazingly resistant over two millennia, looks as though it won’t have any problem lasting a few more.
ARCHEOLOGICAL MUSEUM IN REGGIO CALABRIA
Clearly, the museum has a lot to offer. For any loyal readers disappointed in my minimal showing of broken pots, rest assured that you’ll find plenty in the museum.
The Archeological Museum in Reggio Calabria is located at the northern end of Corso Garibaldi at Piazza DeNava, just a block up from the city’s Lido train station. Currently, it is open Tuesday through Sunday from 9 am to 7:30 pm. There isn’t a break for lunch, or as I’ve often seen written on signs in Italy to indicate an establishment has continual hours: Orario No Stop.
Now that you’ve had the opportunity to enjoy a few of the museum’s artifacts other than the Bronzes of Riace, check out these much sought after masterpieces in my blog post Reflection on the Riace Bronzes. And for another beautiful bronze sculpture at the museum: The Head of Basilea: Discovery, Theft and Restoration. Virtually stroll through other museums in Reggio in my blogposts: Pinacoteca Civic, Art Museum of Reggio Calabria and The Palazzo della Cultura in Reggio Calabria.
Read more about what there is to see and do in Reggio Calabria, the beautiful city right at the point of the toe in the Italian boot, as well as daily life, history, culture, art, food and society in this fascinating southern Italian region in my award-winning, non-fiction book Calabria: The Other Italy. Available in paperback and electronic versions.
Interested in a guided tour of Reggio’s archeological museum as part of a comprehensive cultural tour of Calabria? Check out the itinerary of my Calabria Tour!