Along the shopping street of Corso Umberto I lies a mammoth structure that flaunts security guards and lion statues. Turn the corner and an entrance leads to a maze of impressive stairwells and courtyards. It’s the University of Naples, which dates back to the 13th century and houses a handful of excellent museums.
Established in 1992, the Centro Musei delle Scienze Naturali, the University of Naples Science Museums includes the museums of mineralogy, zoology, anthropology, paleontology, and physics.
The Museum of Paleontology is located in the west wing of the Santi Marcellino e Festo Cloister (Largo San Marcellino, 10) and preserves more than 50,000 artifacts, the oldest dating back 600 million years. The first finds to be displayed were the Ittioliti deposits of Campania – fossils found by Oronzio Gabriele Costa (the founder of Italian Paleontology).
The Royal Museum of Mineralogy is located inside the University itself. There’s a Vesuvian collection, a collection of scientific instruments, and two hyaline (glassy) quartz from Madagascar given as a present to King Charles VII.
The Zoological Museum has one thousand skin specimens dating back to the 18th century and several extinct animals are on display, including the Norfolk Island Pigeon, the Crescent Nail-Tailed Wallabi, and the Berber Lion. They also have 30,000 specimens of insects and 2,000 specimens of parasitic worms.
The Museum of Anthropology houses archeological finds from Troy, including polished stone axes and milling querns from about 3,000 B.C.
The Museum of Physics houses some 700 instruments, most dating to the 19th century. There is also a collection of instruments designed by physicist Macedonio Melloni (1798 – 1854) and some 17th century instruments, including a telescope lens from 1645.
The Biblioteca Università contains one million volumes. The books themselves are hidden away within the building, accessible only to librarians. However, ask the lady at the top of the stairs if any exhibits are on display. The library often has exhibitions and curators are more than willing to give you a tour.