The angular, white, modern Antiquarium was completed near Naples in 1974. Designed by a team of Neapolitan architects the building was approved by the Italian government and built for 12 billion lira (about €6 million). For the next 44 years, despite modifications after the museum was finished and an investigation into the Superintendency of Pompeii (who ran the site until 2016) by Italy’s Court of Auditors, the museum proceeded to sit, unused and closed. On December 20th, however, the museum, known as the Antiquarium, finally opened. Built to house the artefacts and relics of the ancient Roman city of Herculaneum, which was destroyed alongside Pompeii when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 1738, the museum is finally exhibiting items that were preserved for hundreds of years in the volcanic ash.
Francesco Sirano became the site’s director in 2017 and views the opening as a ‘pilot intervention’ and a win for his team working to bring the museum up to date. Regarding the long-closed museum, Sirano, who also reopened an underground theatre for public access after 20 years in Herculaneum, said: ‘[t]here will never be enough explanations to justify this delay, and there are many.’ For instance, in 2015, the Italian minister of culture and Sirano’s predecessor announced that a new museum was planned amidst the city’s ruins. Expected to be designed by Renzo Piano, the addition would be funded by philanthropist David W. Packard. Though the Packard Humanities Institute continues to support the Herculaneum Conservation Project created in 2001, the plans for the new museum stalled.
To prepare for the inaugural exhibition, ‘SplendOri: Luxury in the Ornaments of Herculaneum,’ Sirano used items purchased decades ago to get the museum ready in an effort to cut as much costs as possible. He worked with a limited budget for construction to finish out gallery spaces, readied spaces for museum staff and visitors, and installed an energy-efficient video surveillance system. All in all, the renovations to the 400-square metre, covered, air-conditioned space came to about €400,000.
‘SplendOri’ showcases artefacts found during excavations of Herculaneum. Running through September 30th, 2019, the show includes jewels, coins, bronzes, candlesticks, and glassware from the ancient Roman city. In addition to items that have graced the store rooms of the Antiquarium, the show will offer loans from the National Archaeological Museum in Naples.
However grand this success may be, Sirano does not see this as the end to his battle. Utilizing the 1970s building is only a temporary solution until a new facility that can appropriately house artefacts, research, and exhibitions is built.