Museo Civico Archeologico di Bologna

The Museo Civico Archeologico di Bologna was the one Dasniya and I intended to visit a few days ago, instead, we veered off to the very good Museo della Storia di Bologna. Today I was wondering which of the few I wanted to see would be the one, and kept coming back to this, despite weird opening hours. It took me until 3pm before I arrived, so some of the exhibitions were closed. I was feeling a little shoddy after yesterday’s performance – mostly tired and in need of low-concentration type activities – so it’s probably for the best.

The archaeological collection available to the public is massive, and concentrates specifically on the Bologna region and city itself, with artefacts dating from 800 000 years ago up till the end of the Western Roman Empire, filling the first floor of the fifteenth-century Palazzo Galvani. Some of the collections are simply hundreds or thousands of similar items – stone arrow heads, decorative clay urns – packed in rows into display cabinets. Unlike the Museo della Storia di Bologna though, it’s not such a good museum if you don’t speak or read Italian. There is an English audio guide, but it’s pretty rubbish; I kept thinking the speaker was about to say more, but, no, and on all but a handful of seemingly randomly selected items he had nothing to say at all. Likewise, there’s a couple of items with English notes, equally seeming selected at random, but these are even fewer than the audio guide, which left me doing an approximate pseudo-translation at first on the copious notes in Italian, then giving up and just staring at decontextualised objects for a couple of hours.

The objects are beautiful and it’s fascinating to see the beginnings of stone tools going from crude hacking to refined blades and heads, then becoming smaller and extraordinarily delicate; the first appearances of bronze and copper, similarly becoming refined and delicate; then with the arrival of the Celts, the first glass, becoming mastered by the time of the Roman Empire. Pottery, glazing, and firing also follow this path, even becoming cruder at one time during mass-production in the Roman era. Of course I especially liked the fully exhumed graves and skeletons displayed in glass-topped coffins (and the head of Athena Lemnia).

It just felt altogether a diminished experience. Almost every item or group of items had at least a paragraph of notes which I was entirely excluded from understanding, and the audio guide, for which I paid an extortionate 4,-€ felt like a thoughtless obligation rather than an object of use, especially next to all the QR codes which seem to be the preferred method of interaction, provided one has a smartphone. For a museum which appears at the top of the list in tourist guides, and despite the quality of the collections, it offers merely superficial, casual, almost careless participation for non-Italian speaking visitors.

As for my understanding of what I was looking at, I’ve done enough reading to have the bones of an idea of the European Palaeolithic, but I’m pretty hopeless at Classical antiquity, and can’t tell Etruscan from Roman; perhaps a good choice for my next subject of study.