The history of the Museum begins in 1833 with the inauguration of the cenotaph of Johann Joachim Winckelmann, a distinguished scholar of ancient history and classical art, considered the founder of modern art history and father of archeology, who died tragically in Trieste on June 8 1768. The monument to Winckelmann became the center of the future museum which was born with the aim of favoring the study of art and archeology.
The collection of ancient material was favored by the geographical position of Trieste and by the commercial-maritime relations with the classical lands from Egypt to Mesoamerica. The Museum has been housed since 1925 in a three-storey neoclassical building and preserves, alongside the archaeological materials of prehistory and local protohistory, the Egyptian collection, those of Greek, Tarantine and Cypriot vases, and the rooms dedicated to the Roman and Mayan civilization.
The finds that document the customs and rites of the first human settlements in the area come, in particular, from the caves of the Karst, from the Castellieri of the Trieste and Istrian Karst and from the extraordinary site of Santa Lucia di Tolmino on the upper Isonzo where 7000 were found cremation tombs datable between the 8th and 4th centuries BC
The Mayan collection “Cesare Fabietti” is mainly made up of a series of anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figurines made of terracotta by a population of Mayan culture dating from between 600 and 1000 AD.
Roman finds come in large numbers from Aquileia, Tergeste, Istria and the areas of the neighboring states. Among these is an important series of reliefs of Attic sarcophagi that were produced in Greece between the end of the second and third centuries. A.D., in particular, there are two large fragments of Amazonomachy from the end of the second century. A.D.
and the fragment of an Attic sarcophagus with the myth of Hippolytus.
A large exhibition is dedicated to finds from ancient Egypt, about a thousand pieces from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In particular, among the finds belonging to the Pharaonic era, the large pink granite sarcophagus weighing six tons of the dignitary Suty-nakht, the royal scribe in charge of the Treasury of the Lord of the Two Lands, most likely comes from Memphis and
the stuccoed and painted wooden sarcophagus of the priest Pa-sen-en-Hor, complete with the second lid (the cartonnage casing) and the mummy still intact. Steles, pyramidions, papyrus sheets, canopic vases, statuettes representing the main deities, sacred animals, amulets and a set of Greco-Roman, Coptic and Islamic materials complete the panorama of the ancient civilization of the pharaohs.
A great asset of the Museum is the extraordinary collection of Greek vases and
in particular the fabulous silver rhyton. A vase shaped like the head of a young deer with decoration on the neck depicting a mythological scene with Boreas kidnapping Orizia. The vase can be dated towards the end of the 5th century BC. and, probably, it was worked in a silversmith’s workshop in the Greek colonies on the Black Sea coast.
The Lapidary Garden, annexed to the Museum, stood around the monument to the memory of Johann Joachim Winckelmann and in the area occupied by the Catholic cemetery of San Giusto. Opened to the public in 1843, it houses epigraphs, monuments and sculptures from the Roman era. The temple houses Winckelmann’s cenotaph and exhibits a precious collection of Greek sculptures that belonged to the Arcadi Sonziaci.
The Museum overlooks the Captain’s Garden, so named for its relevance to the Caesarean Captain, who ruled the city in the name of the Austrian Emperor and resided in the Castle of San Giusto. Here are preserved sculptures, tombstones and inscriptions from the medieval-modern era.