The halls

The exhibition of “Le Navi Antiche di Pisa” is hosted in the rooms and the aisles of the Arsenali Medicei” (the Medici Arsenals) in Pisa. It is dived into eight sections.
The average duration of a tour is 90 minutes.

The first hall of the Museum is focussed on the history of the city of Pisa between archaeology and legend, as well as on its development up until the Etruscan and the the Roman period, and the arrival of the Lombards.

The city’s relationship with the territory and the water: the floods, the region’s organization between canals and centuriations, the harbour of Pisa, the quarries and the pottery workshops, fishery, agriculture, timber, and how this intense productive activity affected the territory, causing, still in ancient times, its hydrogeological instability.

The extraordinary discovery of 1998, the excavation and restoration site of the roman ships of Pisa.

The plain of Pisa was repeatedly struck by catastrophic floods over the centuries: they were disastrous for the territory, but thanks to the archaeological excavations they allowed a detailed reconstruction of a centuries-old history consisting of ships, finds, and stories of life an trade. Special attention is paid to the archaeological excavation method in a wet environment.

The account of a shipwreck and the story of a friendship: the sailor of the ship B and his dog.

Not only the place where the ships were built, kept and repaired (the arsenals), but the ships in their entirety: how they where built in the ancient world and how they are built today, the modern excavation and recovery techniques and the restoration of archaeological wood.

Reconstruction of the ship A’s excavation site.

The exhibit of the ships and their cargos and equipment, which occupies two aisles of the arsenals, is subdivided into two parts: the first aisle is focussed on deep-sea ships, and the second on inland waterway boats.

Exhibits of the Alkedo and its life-size reconstruction. Barges and river ferries: the ship D and the ship I. A ship from Spain.

One of the main reasons for sea travelling was trade: and amphoras, used to transport good, were the main item, along with the containers of all the products sold in the ancient world: furthermore, the diffusion, import and export of specific goods, various types of marble, and fine table pottery.

All the amphoras known in Pisa one one wall: shapes, contents and origins.


The Roman ships, with oars and square sails, sailed thanks to a complex manoeuvring system: considerable parts of the sails have been found in the excavation site, which allow a reliable reconstruction of the complex system on which the sails’ structure was based.

The wooden anchor of the ship A, the angelfish good luck charm. Finding you way following the stars. How long did sea voyages last? What were the most frequent harbours and routes? Check out our arrivals and departures board.

Voyaging was definitely not very comfortable, for sailors but also for passengers. This section describes the various aspects of this hard life: clothes, luggages, storms, ship’s lighting, how the crew cooked and ate, cults and superstitions, and daily life on board.

What clothes did sailors use to wear? The Alkedo’s leather jacket.

The luggage of a sailor of the ship A: a few coins and a handful of personal items.

And what about free time? Games for children and board games.

The Arsenals

The exhibition of “Le Navi Antiche di Pisa” takes place in the halls and aisles of the “Arsenali Medicei” (the Medici Arsenals), along river Arno. Originally, these were warehouses destined to the building and upkeep of the galleys used by the knights of the order of St. Stephen – the Order of Chivalry whose duty was to protect the coasts from the Saracen threat. The arsenals were soon abandoned and became first barracks, and then stables. Until the middle of the 20th century, they hosted the Italian Army’s horse breeding centre.

The intention to preserve the structure of the Arsenals influenced the museum’s choices, mainly in rooms I, II and VIII, where the maintenance of the horse boxes imposed a narration structured in microchapters, similar to mini-steps. The large volumes of the aisles, instead, are the ideal space to display the big restored ships.

The history

The discovery

In 1998, in Pisa outskirts, towards the sea, the Italian Railways started the construction works to build a control centre for the Rome-Genoa line, next to Pisa San Rossore station. Some wooden objects immediately began coming to light, whose extraordinary value the archaeologists instantly realised.

In particular, what emerged 6 metres underground was an incredible series of ship wreckages in an extraordinary state of preservation, with their loads of commercial items and various remnants of life on board.

From the discovery, the excavation site of Ancient Roman ships of Pisa originated, which would be completed in 2016 and brought to light about thirty Roman boats and thousands of fragments of pottery glass, metal and traces of organic materials. This is one of the most interesting and rich excavation and research sites of the latest years.

The laborious work of archaeologists and restorers has recreated the mosaic of a long history, consisting of trades and sailors, voyages and routes, daily life on board and shipwrecks.

The particular state of preservation of the finds hidden in clay and sand layers required a considerable economic, organizational and technological effort, providing the researchers with labs, storerooms, cutting-edge instrumentation and logistics functional to the recovery of the over thirty wreckages found and the related materials.

The Ancient Ships’ site, thus, has become a centre equipped with labs, storerooms and instruments, on which tens of university and research institutions from Italy and abroad have collaborated.