There are literally hundreds of museums in Sicily as humanity has made its home here since prehistoric times. You can get lost in amongst the limitless exhibitions of ancient Greek artefacts, fossils and ceramics and risk museum burnout.
The best way to avoid exorbitant museum visitation is to select a few which spark a particular interest or reflect a specific element of Sicilian culture you may not be familiar with so as to give you a memorable experience.
Museum hopping can be a waste of time, there is so much more to see outside when you visit Sicily, I suggest you choose one of the spacious archaeological parks dotted around the island, see your Greek temples and get your fill of ancient history outdoors and in its original context as la Sicilia is a living breathing museum.
As a result of living in Sicily I can no longer can stomach ceramic or archaeological museums, I suggest you visit a maximum of one at a time so as not to risk being fatigued or try to stick to museums with a selection of different elements.
Palermo hosts the Sicilian Regional Gallery in Palermo which houses a grand collection of paintings and sculptures from the twelfth to the eighteenth centuries. The most spectacular is the fifteenth-century fresco titled the Triumph of Death, in the palaces’ chapel. The Galleria is also the home to Antonello da Messina’s Annunciation which is considered a fine example of early oil painting technique from the Middle Ages and is a true masterpiece.
The Palace itself is a work of art and is located in the heart of the Kalsa neighbourhood of Palermo, near the ancient door of Cala. The Abatellis palace dates back to the fifteenth century with a history as an aristocratic residence and Benedictine convent. After being seriously damaged in world war two it was restored and became the home of the Galleria Nazionale della Sicilia in nineteen fifties.
Apart from the Gallery, there is an extensive library dedicated to Sicilian medieval and modern art (from the fourteenth century to the twentieth century). There are some six thousand volumes of prints, catalogues and articles dedicated to collections of Italian art with a particular focus on Sicilian and worldwide artistic trends.
Galleria Regionale Palazzo Abatellis ,Via Allora, 4 – 90133, Palermo. Phone +39 091 623 0011
This modern art gallery at Palermo is perfect for those who may be a little tired of seeing artwork from ancient times and the Middle Ages. This elegant museum housed in the former convent of Sant’Anna alla Misericordia offers many paintings and sculptures from the Neoclassical, Romantic periods of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The Galleria also hosts regular exhibitions of contemporary art from Palermo and international artists. There is a bookshop and cafe which are a great way to relax and unwind after a long day of walking and sightseeing.
Galleria d’Arte Moderna Palermo- Complesso monumentale di S.Anna Via S.Anna, 21, 90133 Palermo. Phone: +39 091 8431605
This large museum offers a variety of collections dedicated to Sicilian archaeology, natural science and ethnohistory including a fascinating collection of colourfully decorated Sicilian carts which are a form of art which is slowly dying out. There is a little bit of everything about Sicily here and so you can easily pick and choose the different elements that may interest you and once again this museum is housed in a beautiful building filled with history and spacious rooms to explore.
Museo Regionale di Palazzo D’Aumale Lungomare Peppino Impastato – Terrasini Palermo. Phone: +39 091 8810989
It is difficult to visit Sicily without falling in love with these enigmatic Sicilian ‘pupi’ or Marionette puppets which at one time told the epic stories of historical battles and heroes from the islands past. This theatrical art is in danger of becoming extinct with only a handful of working companies surviving in Sicily, this museum offers tourists the opportunity to understand this colourful part of Sicilian history. You can even choose to adopt a puppet, which means your donation will be used to restore and maintain these extraordinary characters for future generations. This museum also hosts an international puppet festival every year which celebrates puppetry traditions throughout the world.
Museo Internazionale delle Marionette Antonio Pasqualino, Piazzetta Antonio Pasqualino 5 (off Via Butera), Palermo. Phone: +39 091328060
This museum is a memorial to the city of Messina as it houses numerous sculptures, decorations and religious art recovered from ruins after the nineteen hundred and eight earthquakes. The collection also includes a polyptych by Antonello da Messina dated from fourteen seventy-three and other examples from major artists such as Girolamo Alibrandi, Polidoro and Caravaggio.
Museo regionale interdisciplinare di Messina, Viale della Libertà, 465 Messina. Phone:+39 090 361292
The Museo degli Arazzi fiamminghi preserves eight precious sixteenth-century Flemish tapestries depicting scenes from the Roman-Jewish war of the first century AD.
It was the bishop of Messina Antonio Lombardo who donated the eight tapestry works to the main church of his hometown in 1589, on the condition that they would remain in the church. For nearly three centuries the tapestries were only displayed publicly on rare occasions and in the nineteenth century, the church even tried to sell them. Thanks to a diligent parish priest a small museum was founded by local volunteers to house the precious artworks.
After an extensive restoration process at Florence from 1965 to 1979 the tapestries were successfully attributed to the Spanish-Flemish painter Pedro Campana. These rare series of designs are made from wool and silk and represent a masterful technique in this medium with particular attention to fine details, colours and perspective. Each tapestry is complemented by an ample and rich frame decorated with ornamental motifs from mythology and the natural world.
The series depicts the so-called Jewish Wars of 66 A.D, a rebellion against the occupation of the Roman emperor Nero which led to the infamous burning of Rome. The Roman army led by the general Vespasian went on to quash the rebellion.
The scenes are seen to be an allegorical interpretation which in reality refers to the religious conflicts the royal house of Spain of Carlo V and Filippo II had against Flemish and German Protestants in the contemporary period when the tapestries were first weaved.
Museo degli Arazzi fiamminghi, Via Giuseppe Garraffa. Phone: +39 0923.711327
This intriguing is housed inside a former wine factory at Marsala built-in the nineteenth century, its main display is a remarkable Punic ship which illustrates the history of Lilybaeum, a small town founded around 307 BC by refugees from nearby Motya Island. During the Punic war, the city was an outpost of Carthage meant to protect against Roman attacks but which was ultimately destroyed by them.
For anyone who is passionate about Maritime and Roman history, this museum is a must as it reconstructs this ancient ship and the history of this late Roman town in Sicily all in an equally suggestive backdrop.
The Agostino Pepoli Regional Museum
Located at Trapani this museum is found in a former Carmelite convent from the fourteenth century. The collection gathers remarkable sculptures and paintings, archaeological relics and artisan crafts typical to Sicily. It includes the private collection of the Count Agostino Pepoli, who supported the founding of the museum in the early twentieth century.
The Museo Interdisciplinare Regionale Agostino Pepoli di Trapani highlights include a collection of archaeological and religious artefacts, intricate nativity scenes, local red coral works which form a part of an ancient tradition among artisans in Trapani.
Museo Interdisciplinare Regionale Agostino Pepoli di Trapani, Via Conte Pepoli 200, Trapani. Phone: +39 0923-553269
Located at Catania, the opera composer’s birthplace is wonderful to couple together with a visit to the spectacular Teatro Massimo Bellini (also at Catania). The beautifully maintained house illustrates the life and production of the world-known Catanese composer including prints of Catania in the nineteenth century and personal items, autographed manuscripts and photographs. Vincenzo Bellini is a symbol of a belle-époque in Catania’s history which saw a flourish in the cultural life of Sicily and so a visit here is a trip back into a magical piece of the island’s history.
Museo Belliniano.Piazza San Francesco 3, Catania. Phone: +39 095 7150535
Teatro Massimo Bellini. Via Giuseppe Perrotta, 12. Phone: +39 095 730 6111
Finally for those who enjoy natural history there the Gemmellato Geological museum at Palermo which is one of the most important geology and palaeontology museums in Italy. The Geological Museum is part of the University of Palermo’s Earth Science faculty and has many extensive paleontological exhibitions which extend from the most ancient Sicilian fossils and sulphur crystals from the Palaeozoic era from two hundred and seventy million years ago to the most recent fossils of the Quaternary age (2.5 million years ago).
The most intriguing exhibitions include the skeleton of Thea, the Paleolithic woman from seventeen thousand years ago found at the San Teodoro caves of Acquedolci in the province of Messina and the skeletal remains of the animals who inhabited the island in prehistoric times including dwarf elephants, bears and tigers. The Gemmellaro Museum offers a journey through some truly fascinating aspects of Sicily’s lesser-known geological history.
Museo di Paleontologia e Geologia, G. G. Gemmellaro. Corso Tukory, 131, 90100 Palermo. Phone: +39 091 2386 4665.
I found this great little video on Youtube which takes you through the main exhibitions in the Gemmellaro Museum, even if it’s in Italian it still gives you a sense of what you can expect on a visit.
These museums are only some of the literally endless assortment of choice available in Sicily. As I mentioned before Sicily offers something for nearly every possible part of European history from Gothic Medieval churches, Arab Norman styles of architecture, Ancient Roman and Greek temples, amphitheatres, mosaics, Sicilian baroque, Spanish villas and mansions to name but a few all you need to do is do a little research and you will inevitably find something which will interest you.