Italian Ethnographic Museums: All the Main Institutions of This Kind in North-Eastern Italy.

Italian Ethnographic Museums: A Thriving Reality in the Countrys Cultural Life.

The purpose of this page is to gather together the links for the main Ethnographic Museums I am dealing with in this website – especially those in the Alpine area, but not exclusively.

The Museo degli Usi e Costumi della Gente Trentina

In the Alps, the Trentino Ethnographic Museum (Museo degli Usi e Costumi della Gente Trentina) is an important Alpine Ethnographic Museum located in San Michele allAdige, in the province of Trento, Trentino region.

The museum is structured on four floors and it has 41 exhibition rooms, subdivided into thematic areas that include 20 different sections. Some of the themes faced in the various exhibition rooms are referred to agriculture, crafts (such as wood-carving, metal and textiles), animal breeding, hunting, religious forms and popular traditions. The Trentino Ethnographic Museum is distinguished also by the attention devoted to traditional agriculture systems in the Alps.

The “Museo Etnografico della Provincia di Belluno

Cesiomaggiore a small town situated roughly half-way between Feltre and Belluno hosts the headquarters of the Ethnographic Museum of the Province of Belluno, located in an open, panoramic position overlooking the Val Belluna. It is a foremost institution of its kind, part of the network of Alpine Ethnographic Museums.

Recently re-arranged in the noble setting of a 17th Century villa (Villa Avogadro degli Azzoni), it is the most extensive and comprehensive collection of objects of ethnographic interest in the whole province of Belluno, and it functions as a coordinating hub for all activities related to ethnography and anthropology in this part of the Dolomites.

Appropriately themed, each set of rooms covers a topic which is highly relevant to the history of local cultural heritage: costumes, traditional objects, kitchen tools and working utensils, emigration, myths and tales, local language and music – plus an extensive section on agriculture, diet, and the difficult relationship between man and the mountains; particularly atmospheric is the reconstruction of an old kitchen with the stua – open fire – in the middle. In addition, there is also a photographic and sound archive; the specialized library contains more than 5,000 volumes.

Within the province of Belluno there are other important institutions too – such as, for instance, a brand new headquarters for the Ethnographic Museum of Ampezzo, in the Dolomites capital town of Cortina d’Ampezzo. It is part of the so-called Museo delle Regole, which also comprises the Rinaldo Zardini Geological Museum – with its extensive collection of minerals and fossils – and a very interesting Museum of Modern Art (the Pinacoteca Mario Rimoldi).

Another small but interesting Ethnographic Museum in the province of Belluno also worth a visit is the “Museo Etnografico della Civiltà Cimbra” (Ethnographic Museum of the Cimbrian Civilization), located on the Cansiglio plateau. This museum has an interesting story to tell, as the area was once inhabited by the Cimbri – a nomad population of German origin that established itself here during the 18th Century.

There are also several other smaller museums of this kind within the province, such as the ones in Sappada and Costalta (Comelico region); Selva di Cadore (in the Val Fiorentina), which is mostly an archaeological collection, but displays items of ethnographic interest too; Zoppe di Cadore in the Zoldano region (where there is also the Museo del Chiodo Nails Museum – in Forno di Zoldo) and the Dairy Museum (Museo della Latteria”) in Lozzo di Cadore, Cadore region.

The Ladin Museum at Castel de Tor

Located in the very heart of the Dolomites, where more than 30,000 Dolomite Ladins live, this Ladin Museum is characterised by two main important features: it celebrates the uniqueness of the Ladin language and culture  which derives from popular Latin  as well as the extraordinary mountain landscape at the heart of the Italian Southern Alps.

The route through the museum focuses on some significant aspects of the present and past lives of the Ladins of the Dolomites, highlighting the important influences of cross-regional events on the population, while pinpointing at the same time the existing interrelations between landscape forms and lifestyles.

The topic covered include language and identity (as each of the five so-called ‘Ladin’ valleys has its own language variant being spoken, as well as its cultural institutions), archaeology (the settling of the Dolomites), geology (the creation and discovery of the Dolomites), tourism and economy, craftsmanship in Ladinia.

The Ethnographic Museum Cjase Cocèl in Fagagna

Further east, at the foothills of the Carnian Alps, the house known as Cjase Cocèl is an ancient rural building in the town of Fagagna, central-western Friuli. This compound of traditional buildings dates back in some of its parts to the 17th Century, and it presents the daily life and the farmers’ work in the countryside of Friuli in a period that goes from the end of the 1800s until the 1950s – that is, before the great changes that happened in life and work from the 1960s onwards.

The name is referred to the Chiarvesio family (nicknamed Cocèl), who inhabited the house for a long time; the original denomination has been retained in order to remember a local farmers’ family, and also to underline the spirit of this atmospheric Ethnographic Museum – that is, the rebuilding of a real house as it once was. Several environments have been recreated here; amongst them: the kitchen, the rooms, the cellar, the hay-loft (or granary), the farmyard and the work-room.

Other topics include textile plants, the peculiarity of lace-pillow tradition in the area, themill, the iron-smithy, the osteria, whose pieces of furniture come from real local inns, the dairy, the schoolroom and bee-keeping. There is also a nice area outside, with a typical courtyard, a kitchen garden and an orchard.

The Museum of Popular Art of Carnia in Tolmezzo

Another important Ethnographic Museum in Friuli is in Tolmezzo: the Museum of Popular Art of Carnia (Museo delle Tradizioni e Arti Popolari Carniche). It holds a rich and interesting collection of ethnographic, artistic and craft objects, laid out over 30 rooms.

The material displayed illustrates all the main aspects of life, arts and traditions in Carnia from the 14th to the 20th Century, and the richness of the objects and findings is such that the Museum of Popular Art in Tolmezzo can be considered one of the finest and most important of its kind in Europe – it certainly is one of the foremost within the Alpine region.

The collections are laid out in such a way as to replicate the domestic environments where the objects originally came from – such as kitchens, bedrooms and dining rooms – and the spaces dedicated to work, like the workshops of the carpenter, the copper beater-brazier, the weaver and the famous cramars (ambulant sellers from the region).

All in all, the density of the ethnographic material exhibited in the museum which covers a time span from the 13th to the 20th Century allows one to rediscover social-economic events, explore the history of taste and the traditions of the area, while taking the visitor back to the climate and atmosphere of those times.

There are also several other noteworthy smaller museums of this kind in Carnia as for instance the Ethnographic Museum in Sauris; this museum (also called “Haus van der Zahre” ‘Zahre’ being the name of the community in the local language) is born out of a project whose aim is to document the diffusion of customs and traditions within the broader history of the community – a history that starts around 1250AD, with the arrival in the valley of families from Osttirol (East Tyrol) and Lesachtal, part of present-day Austria.

The ethnographic centre was conceived as a ‘container’ for exhibitions aimed at providing the visitor with a clear vision on the daily life of people that have made this valley their home for the last seven centuries. The objective is that of highlighting the environmental/geographical connections that will allow for a better understanding of the relationship between working tools and community, so to uncover what lies ‘beneath’ the traditional way of life.

For more information on the cultural institutions of this region, please refer also to the Carnia Musei page.

The Museo della Civiltà Contadina in San Marino di Bentivoglio

Moving south now, this museum – whose name could roughly be translated into Museum of the Farming Civilization is one of the first institutions of this kind to have been created in Italy, and it certainly is the most important Ethnographic Museum in the Emilia-Romagna region.

It is hosted in the atmospheric setting of Villa Smeraldi, an historical building situated about 15 km to the north of Bologna, along a stretch of the Canale Navile – a navigable canal that links the city to the small town of Bentivoglio and beyond. The Villa Smeraldi hosts the collections and the exhibitions of the Museo della Civiltà Contadina since 1973, but a new wing has been opened recently. This museum is very important in order to reconstruct various aspects of traditional life in the plains around Bologna in the old times, and it is instrumental  if you are not familiar with the area  to its educated visit.

Some of the sections covered by this museums include: the plains of the ‘mezzadri’, the valleys (‘valli’; fens) and the rice-fields, the ‘podere’ (small farm), wheat and corn; wood, leaves and wine; the farmhouse and its courtyard; artisans and farmers; sugar and honey; the cultivation of hemp; the cultivation of fruit trees and the farmer’s kitchen. There is also an historic park, inside which the various buildings are scattered as well as some of the exhibition spaces.

Finally, always within the Emilia-Romagna region, the Chestnut Museum (Museo del Castagno) and the Museum-laboratory of the Borlengo, both located inside the ancient Ospitale di San Giacomo in Zocca, can be considered in all aspects akin to ethnographic collections. They jointly demonstrate the importance of this staple food in the so-called chestnut civilization belt of the Northern Apennines.

This is all, for now, in terms of Italian Ethnographic Museums, but this page will be regularly updated as the description of more museums is added to the website, so come and check it out often!

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