Stretching down from France between the sea and the mountains, the Italian region of Liguria is home to a wide variety of historic sites. At one villa, in Pegli on the outskirts of Genoa, the recently renovated Museum of Ligurian Archaeology explores ancient activity in the area, from the first inhabitants to the Romans.
A look at burials from different parts of the region offers an insight into numerous periods, encompassing important aspects of Liguria’s archaeology and some highlights from the museum. Set in the villa’s lofty rooms with painted ceilings, the prehistory collections feature burials from the cave of Arene Candide (White Sands) in Finale Ligure. The most impressive is an Upper Palaeolithic burial of a tall and seemingly strong young man, presumably a hunter, about 15 years old. The presentation of the skeleton – with a cap of shells, mammoth ivory pendants, and a 23cm-long flint blade, among other items – has earned him the nickname ‘Il Principe’ (the prince). The person who buried Il Principe in a bed of red ochre about 24,000 years ago also attempted to mask the fatal wound on his face with yellow ochre. Other human remains discovered at the cave, including from the Neolithic, are also on display, accompanied by their accessories.
The city of Genoa, in comparison to Arene Candide, is relatively young, and grave goods give a glimpse of the lives of the city’s first inhabitants. Construction work in 1898 on the Via XX Settembre, Piazza de Ferrari, and Via Dante revealed 121 graves from Genoa’s pre-Roman necropolis (500 BC). Some of these were reburied, and sadly most have since been destroyed, but artefacts from some of the burials survive in the museum’s collections.
These grave goods reveal an interesting mix of local Ligurian and slightly further afield Etruscan cultures. Buried weapons, for example, include Ligurian spears and Etruscan helmets and swords. Other items, such as imported Etruscan bronzes, painted Greek vases, perfumes from the eastern Mediterranean, and gold, amber, and coral jewellery, make up effective displays of wealth. Cultural exchanges can also be seen in Roman Genoa. A sculpture of Cerberus, found at the Roman entrance to the city, depicts the three-headed dog resting its paw on a severed human head: this has been interpreted as a product of Celtic influence.
As well as showcasing the archaeology of Liguria, the museum houses collections of artefacts from elsewhere in Roman Italy, including Pompeii and Cumae, and a small but striking gallery devoted to ancient Egypt. Here, the mummy, painted wooden sarcophagus, and funerary statue of the priest Pasherienaset (7th-6th century BC) are on display. He was buried with the tools of his trade, and his face on the sarcophagus has been painted green, a colour associated with resurrection, highlighting the priest’s link with Osiris, god of vegetation and the afterlife. Just like those of the museum’s ancient Ligurians, the life of Pasherienaset is not forgotten.
Museo di Archeologia Ligure
Address: Villa Durazzo-Pallavicini, Via Ignazio Pallavicini 13, 16155 Genova, Italy
Open: Tuesday-Friday 9am-7pm (summer) and 9am-6.30pm (winter). Saturday & Sunday 10am-7.30pm (summer) and 9.30am-6.30pm (winter). Closed Mondays.
Admission: €5 (or €12 with entrance to the Parco di Villa Pallavicini). Concessions available.
Images: courtesy of Museo di Archeologia Ligure and Soprintendenza Regionale della Liguria