ARCHAEOLOGY | The wonders of the Archaeological Museum Luigi Bernabò Brea in Lipari

Luigi Bernabó Brea and Madeleine Cavalier

The Regional Aeolian Archaeological Museum Luigi Bernabò Brea, born from a previous Antquarium and located on the plateau known as “Il Castello” (The Castle), was inaugurated in 1954.

Its arrangement was strongly desired by the scholar Bernabò Brea, to whom it was later dedicated, and by the famous Madeleine Cavalier. The latter, after having carried out prehistorical excavations and research in Liguria, was his research partner since 1951, when she took over the scientific direction of the excavations in Lipari and of all the archaeological activity in the Aeolian Islands. The collaboration between the two significantly allowed so much the expansion of the previous museum collection that it was necessary to open new centres. Today, the Archaeological Museum of Lipari consisting of six pavilions that contain respectively: Prehistory, Epigraphy, Minor Islands, Classical Age, Vulcanology and Paleontology of the Quaternary which are located in as many buildings. The exhibition makes use of a rich and exhaustive information that spread across captions in Italian and English. It documents the development of human settlements and the development of the successive civilizations in the Aeolian Archipelago.

The Prehistoric Section

This Section is located in an eighteenth century building which, built on the ruins of the Norman monastery, was the seat of the “Palazzo Vescovile” (Bishop’s Palace). The finds preserved in it show the succession of cultures from the Neolithic age (end of the 5th millennium BC) to the Late Bronze Age (11th-10th century BC). The materials come from excavations carried out in the area of “Il Castello”and in the areas that have given their names to successive cultures. From Piano Conte, for example, we get the typical ceramics of the homonymous Middle Eneolithic culture; from Castellaro Vecchio, on the other hand, the traces of the most ancient Neolithic settlements come. To these are added the artifacts found in Contrada Diana and Spatarella. In this section, for the Bronze Age, the finds from the settlements of the culture of Capo Graziano (Filicudi) and the culture of Milazzese (Panarea) are also exhibited.

The exhibition itinerary of the Prehistoric Section of the Museum continues with the evidence of Ausonius I and Ausonius II, whose handcrafted ceramics seem similar to those of the Late-Apennine and to the Protovillanovian culture of the Italian peninsula. Finally, the itinerary ends with the interesting votive offerings, found inside the bothros dedicated to Aeolus, dating back to the Cnidian foundation of Lipàra (580-576 BC).

The Epigraphical Section of the Museum

The Epigraphical Section of the Archaeological Museum of Lipari is also located in the former “Palazzo Vescovile”, inside Room X. This exhibits numerous memorial stones and funerary stelae from the Greek and Roman age, found in the archaeological area of Contrada Diana. The inscriptions bear the names of the deceased, to which, at times, dedicatory or auspicious formulas are added. The large number of finds made it necessary to place the numerous stelae also in the adjacent garden, where they are accompanied by numerous sarcophagi from the same necropolis.

The Minor Islands Section

This section, on the other hand, is located in a small building opposite the Pre-Historic Section. Inside its showcases, there are numerous finds, coming from the archaeological contexts of the smaller islands and datable between the Upper Neolithic and the Middle Bronze Age. The highlight of this exhibition is the reconstruction of a Bronze Age hut. This reproduction, which occupies the central area of the pavilion dedicated to the archaeology of the smaller islands, was made possible through the joint study by archaeologists and archaeobotanists.

The Classical Section of the Museum




Room XIX with reconstruction of the excavation trench of the Bronze Age necropolis

The Classical Section is certainly the largest and occupies the largest number of rooms inside the main twentieth-century building of the Museum. Through the three floors dedicated to it, the finds are exhibited in order to reconstruct the rich historical-cultural framework of the Greco-Roman city. Beyond Room XX, in which the different types of burial are exemplified (sarcophagi and vases of medium and large dimensions), there is Room XIX, which offers a faithful reconstruction of the excavation trench of the Bronze Age necropolis, located below the former Piazza Monfalcone. On the upper floors are exhibited the numerous finds from the rich funeral objects, including the magnificent masks, divided by age and type: they are masks of Greek and Roman comedy and tragedy. Other exhibition spaces are dedicated to the numismatics and jewellery objects.


The great pyramid of the amphorae of Wreck A Roghi on display in room XXVII

Finally, the large room dedicated to underwater archeology is part of the Classical Section. In this room Greek and Roman ships are showcased unfortunately shipwrecked in the waters of the Archipelago, as well as materials from various eras, coming from port dumps in landing areas that have now disappeared. The visitor is immediately attracted by the pyramid-like display of the wreck amphorae of A. Roghi of Capo Graziano , which occupies the centre of Room XXVII. Subsequently, the visitor continues the exhibition itinerary through the finds from different eras, masterfully displayed in chronological order.

The Vulcanological Section

The Vulcanological Section is based in a 14th century building, next to the Minor Islands Section, which was later enlarged in the 17th century. The collection is named after the great vulcanologist Alfred Rittmann and showcases the geomorphology of volcanic origin of the Aeolian archipelago. The exhibition itinerary leads the visitor to observe a series of geological samples – including the famous obsidian – and the plastic reconstructions, which have the didactic purpose of getting him in touch with the productive and economic aspects of the various human settlements that have occurred on the islands .

The Paleontology of the Quaternary Section

Finally, this Section currently occupies a small room located in the south-western sector of “Il Castello”. The collection includes a series of sediments and fossils that must have been present on the various islands of the Aeolian Archipelago during the Quaternary. Of considerable interest is a fragment of the shield of a terrestrial turtle, incorporated in the pyroclasts of Valle Pera di Lipari and dating back to a time period between 127,000 and 104,000 years ago.

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