Paolo Orsi Archaeological Museum

Museo Archeologico Paolo Orsi

The Paolo Orsi Archaeological Museum is one of the most important and prestigious museums in Europe. Its current location is Villa Andolina, a splendid late-19th-century building surrounded by a large park with centuries-old trees and where artefacts from the Greek and Roman periods have been found. The museum has more than 18,000 pieces and is divided into six different sectors. Some of the most famous artefacts that can be seen are the Ephebe of Adrano, the Venus Landolina and the Sarcophagus of Adelfia. Also of extraordinary importance is the Medagliere, which documents the output of the Greek colonies’ mints in Sicily.

Sector A of the Paolo Orsi Museum – Prehistory and protohistory

The first section of the Paolo Orsi Museum covers a very long period of time up to the Bronze Age. The first display cases present the geomorphological structure of the Monti Iblei area as a preface to Sicilian prehistory and protohistory. A collection of rocks and fossils testifies to the fauna present in Sicily during the Quaternary period. These include two specimens of dwarf elephants. The other finds come from the most important Sicilian archaeological sites such as Pantalica, Megara Hyblea and Castelluccio. The period from the Upper Palaeolithic to the Neolithic is evidenced by various tools such as axes, millstones and pestles, made from solidified lava. The Copper Age or Eneolithic period is documented by bowls and various painted ceramics. Flint weapons, the first metal objects, bronze idols, pithoi and various grave goods belong to the Bronze Age.

Sector B of the Paolo Orsi Museum – Greek Colonies. Syracuse in the Archaic and Classical Periods

The second sector of the Paolo Orsi Museum focuses on the Greek colonies in Sicily, divided into Ionic and Doric. The artefacts come from both urban areas and their necropolises. Examples of artefacts on display include a Gorgoneion mask and a marble funerary statue of a kouros, which is missing its head. On his right leg is an inscription referring to the physician, Sombrotidas, son of Mandrocles. Another very interesting statue is that of a kourotrophos, i.e., a deity protecting children, portrayed breastfeeding twins. Also in this area is the symbol of the Paolo Orsi Museum. It is a bronze statue of a seahorse probably dating from 710 BC and found inside a child’s grave. There are also some reconstructions of the Temple of Athena (today Syracuse Cathedral), the Olympeion and the lion’s head mouldings from Castello Eurialo.

Sector C of the Paolo Orsi Museum – Subcolonies of Syracuse, Gela and Agrigento

Sector C of the Paolo Orsi Museum tells the story of Syracuse’s policy of expansion and control of the territory. There are finds from the sub-colonies of Eloro, Akrai, Kasmenai and Kamarina. Not to be missed is the Attic red-figure column krater by the Painter of Agrigento. On one side, it features scenes of a banquet preparation and on the other, a conversation between three young people. Another very fine piece is an almost complete acroterium, i.e., a decorative element from the pediment of a Greek temple. It represents a rider on horseback and dates back to the 6th century BC. Continuing the visit, you will come across other finds that bear witness to the Hellenisation of Sicily’s inland settlements. These include the so-called Ephebus of Adrano, a bronze statuette depicting a naked athlete. According to some, it is an imitation of a piece by Pythagoras of Reghion, considered to be the best bronze artist of the classical period.

Sector D of the Paolo Orsi Museum – Syracuse in the Hellenistic-Roman period

In 2006, a new section of the Paolo Orsi Museum was opened to illustrate the important political and cultural role played by Syracuse from the 4th century BC under the rule of the tyrant, Hieron II. This area contains some of the most famous pieces in the entire museum. The first is the small marble statue of Heracles at rest, made at the beginning of the 3rd century BC. This is followed by a life-size statue of the god Priapus and the famous Venus Landolina. The latter, made in the second century AD, is actually a copy of a Rhodian-Cretan statue from the second century BC. It is so called because it was found in 1804 by the archaeologist, Saverio Landolina from Syracuse. In this area of the museum, there is also a “tactile museum” with Braille writing for the visually impaired and a model of the extensive territory of Syracuse.

Sector F – Rotonda Adelfia

Sector F, opened in 2014, is dedicated to the Christian and Byzantine periods. The artefacts on display come from the Catacombs of San Giovanni, including the sarcophagus of Adelfia and the epigraph of Euskia. The sarcophagus, which was found in 1872, has been attributed to the noblewoman Adelfia, thanks to an inscription on the cover plate. The Latin epigraph reads: “Here lies Adelfia, renowned woman, wife of Count Valerius”. There are also carved scenes from the Old and New Testaments and a medallion that probably depicts Adelfia and her husband. The sarcophagus is set inside a photographic reproduction of the place where it was found, the so-called Rotonda di Adelfia (Adelfia Roundabout). It is a Greek cistern within the Catacombs of San Giovanni, which was transformed into a skylight during the Christian era. In front of the sarcophagus is an inscription in Greek dedicated to Euskia, which is very important because it attests to the existence of the worship of Santa Lucia in Syracuse as early as the 5th century AD.

Sector N – The medal table

Al piano seminterrato del Museo Paolo Orsi si trova una ricchissima collezione numismatica che arriva fino In the basement of the Paolo Orsi Museum, there is a very rich numismatic collection dating back to the Bourbon era. The most important collection consists of coins from the Greek colonies dating from the end of the 6th century BC. There are, for example, specimens from the mints of Naxos, Katane (Catania), Zancle (Messina) and Akragas (Agrigento). Very beautiful coins made by the master engravers Myron and Polykrates presenting: Nike leading a quadriga on one side and pairs of eagles grasping a hare on the other. The coins issued by the Syracuse mint are also very interesting. These include pieces by the master engravers Kimon, Euanetos Eumenes and Frigillo, including the depiction of Heracles choking the lion. The last display cases in this section contain jewellery and precious ornaments from prehistoric, protohistoric and Greek times.

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