My wife and I recently wandered into the Museo Castromediano in Lecce, Italy (also known as Museo Sigismondo Castromediano after the founder, an aristocratic collector who donated a large part of the collection). The museum is outstanding – not only its collection of local ceramics dating across millennia, but also in the way the museum displays those ceramics.
The interior layout is striking. The museum’s interior galleries are built around an arresting spiraling stairway, accentuating the display theme of layers upon layers of human civilization, starting with ceramic remnants of Paleolithic peoples and moving upwards through later periods.
This area of Puglia in southern Italy has been a crossroad of human migration and trade since Paleolithic times. The museum stresses that such exchange of material items reflects not just commercial activity, but also interchange of ideas, language, culture, myth and religion. The museum displays objects found in caves that are amongst the oldest sacred places in human history, occupied by Neanderthals and early Homo Sapiens, as well as objects reflecting later Neolithic and Greco and Roman civilizations.
I was impressed with a creative display of ceramic containers recovered underwater from a Roman-era shipwreck. In addition to displaying the ceramic vessels themselves, the museum recreated the underwater setting with photographs and ceramics placed in salt water aquariums.
There are a staggering number and variety of ceramic objects displayed, indicative of the large amount of ceramics produced in or shipped through southern Italy over many centuries. the museum does a good job of organizing this large quantity of objects into 5 clusters of objects linked to landscape, seascape, the living, the dead and the sacred.
This an altogether fascinating museum that will appeal to all audiences. The objects are varied, the span of history is impressive, and the display is outstanding. The museum is a perfect accompaniment to the city of Lecce, which itself is an architectural display of cultural accumulation and layering.
In Lecce you’ll find a Roman theatre and an amphitheater, ancient city walls, baroque churches and remnants of fascist-era buildings.