If you have dreamed and played with prehistory since you were a child, if you are fascinated by the arrival of man on Earth and charmed by the depths of the sea… the Gemmellaro geological museum is right for you. Here, the history of beautiful Sicily speaks through its small protagonists, from shells to rocks to the oldest specimen of human race found on the island.
A millions of years long journey on three floors and through thousands of wonderful exhibits.
The exhibition of Gemmellaro Museum in Palermo
The museum contains over six hundred thousand exhibits on the island’s geological history, and more. There are also over a thousand holotypes, examples used when the species were formally described. A journey, then, into science and into the evolution of our island. From the ground floor to the second floor, the Gemmellaro museum houses Sicilian prehistory in nine rooms. The itinerary begins when Sicily was just a wonderful and rich seabed and ends with the arrival of man on the island.
THE BURGIO ROOM
On the ground floor, the first room is Burgio Room. Here, several cases house not only rocks from different Sicilian volcanoes, from Etna to the Aeolian, but also various fossils of shells, plants and unicellular organisms. A treat not to be missed are the two cases dedicated to the infamous Graham Island. Here, you can not only see a wonderful watercolour that depicts it, but above all admire original exhibits from that time, from lapilli to ashes. In this room you can even have a special experience: feel inside… a volcano! Noises and images included… try it.
ON THE… UNDERWATER FIRST FLOOR
This is the place of Sicilian prehistoric times, when the island was a wonderful seabed: that’s why the big dinosaurs never arrived in Sicily! On the other hand, we find a series of curious shells of animals lived between 300 and 250 million years ago, coming from the Sosio valley. Some wonderful reproductions of the seabed and its inhabitants, even life-size, will assist you in living this experience to the most. An example? The suggestive model of an ammonite with a diameter of about one metre, which will amaze you not only for its form, but also because you can ‘spy’ its shell and understand its sophisticated technology. It is from ammonite that the infamous red nodular limestone comes. You might have seen it or heard about it, red nodular limestone is in fact the material of the wonderful staircase of the Norman Palace in Palermo. It is a type of limestone on which a large number of ammonite shells settled, giving it a distinctive and elegant red colour. Looking closely you will clearly see the lines of the shells. In addition to the fossil finds, the first floor houses a wide selection of minerals dating to the Messinian, i.e. 7 million years ago. From sulphur to halite, from gypsum to celestine, you will be amazed. A special thing is the gypsum crystal containing a drop of water of the ancient Mediterranean.
THE ROOM OF MAN
Still on the first floor, you can make a little journey through time: entering the Room of Man you feel a great sense of wonder and respect. Wonder for the reproduction of a prehistoric cave (including its inhabitants!) and respect for Thea. Thea is the first human find in Sicily. She was thirty years old and about 1,65 m tall, and studies suggest she must have been a respected personality in her community. She was found in San Teodoro cave in Acquedolci, in the province of Messina.
THE ROOM OF ELEPHANTS
This is where the specimens of animals that lived in our beautiful island between 500 and 120 thousand years ago are kept: not only the fauna of Mount Pellegrino, composed mainly of rabbits and small rodents, but also… bulkier animals, such as hippos, elephants and deer. In this regard, there’s the interesting elephant jawbone found in the centre of Palermo in 1932, during excavations for the Passo di Rigano channel, just below the elegant English Garden.
THE STRANGE CASE OF THE CYCLOPS
So, Sicily was populated by hippos, deer, aurochs (the ancestors of oxen) and dwarf elephants. Many centuries later, the Greeks would have found their remains and mistaken them for Cyclops. In fact, they believed that the cavity in the centre of the skull, which is home to the junction of the proboscis, was instead the socket. Hence the birth of the legend of the monsters with a single eye.
The history of the Gemmellaro Museum
To really know the history of the Gemmellaro geological museum we have to go back to the foundation of the Royal Academy of Studies, created in 1779 at King Ferdinand I of Bourbon’s behest. Later, in 1838, it was the curator Pietro Calcara who tidied up the copious collection of the Department of Natural Science, which is the first part of the museum. Shortly before the unification of Italy, in 1860, Gaetano Giorgio Gemmellaro, son of Carlo, renowned naturalist and geologist from Catania, arrived in Palermo. It is thanks to Gaetano that the museum soon became one of the most prestigious, just after the British Museum in London. It was Gemmellaro who made the discovery of fossils from the Palaeozoic Era in the Sosio river valley (Alcamo, Trapani), which were the keystones for reconstructing the genetic relationships between ammonites, comparing them with others coming from Texas, the Alps and even Tibet. Gemmellaro ran the museum until 1904. It got a real home in 1911, within the Department of Natural History, within the house of the Teatini in Via Maqueda in Palermo, now the headquarters of the university Faculty of Law. The earthquake of 1941 and the bombing of ’43 damaged the museum and some collections. The museum closed its doors in 1965 and the building was used for other purposes. As for the findings, they were ‘put on hold’ in some crates and stored in temporary warehouses. In the 70’s there’s the turning point, the Institute of Geology found a place in via Tukory (current location of the museum) and the collection was set up again. In 1975, palaeontologist Enzo Burgio relaunched the set-up, and re-opened the museum to the public only three years later. In 1985 the museum was fully completed and became a section of the Department of Geology and Geodesy. The museum is now connected with the University of Palermo and is part of the Department of Science of the Earth and the Sea.
Gemmellaro Geological Museum – Corso Tukory 131, Palermo. Tel.: 09123864665 / 09123864690/91 – email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Opening hours: Monday to Friday 9: 00-13:00/ 15: 00-17.00 Saturday: 9: 00-13: 00. Sunday closed
Admission: 4 €, concession 3 € Guided tours for groups and schools (for school groups reservation is required)
Translation by Valeria Balistreri