My Mum’s a Spiny Ant-Eater

In Italy, the first Sunday of every month allows free entry to the country’s state museums and art galleries. Unlike the UK there are entrance charges for all the national collections so this first Sunday is a good occasion, for families especially, to save money.

We were in Florence on the Sunday and, realising that even on admission charge days places like the Uffizi and the Pitti palace would be over-crowded, decided instead to visit one of Florence’s lesser-known wonders, the archaeological museum, which has its entrance by that most beautiful of squares, the Piazza degli Innocenti.


The museum was founded at the start of the nineteenth century and suffered severe damage in the infamous 1966 Florence floods. Despite this, there are some wonderful things on show. For me it’s worth going there just to see the fabulous chimera which was discovered in renaissance times at Arezzo.

The chimera is indeed a fabulous creature in the strict sense of the word, having the body of a lion, the tail of a serpent and, in the middle of its back, the head of a goat. In fact, the word “chimera” has been imported into scientific terminology and is applied to organisms having genetically different cells, quite apart from its popular use to refer to impossible schemes and day-dreams

Having caused widespread destruction, as most monsters are apt to do, the Chimera was killed by Bellerophon riding Pegasus, the winged horse. Here is a fresco showing the hero’s feat:


The Arezzo Chimera is now displayed in a separate room together with that other fine bronze statue of the orator which is the only surviving example of an Etruscan metal sculpture using the cire-perdue method..


There are many other fascinating things to see in Florence’s archaeological museum. Its Egyptian section, for example, is second only to that of Turin’s amazing collection.

Perhaps the finest part, however, is that displaying Etruscan artefacts collected in that former stronghold of Etruscan civilization, the southern part of Tuscany.

We thoroughly enjoyed our trip here and were glad we avoided the Uffizi as we heard that people had been queuing there for three hours to get in. Of course, the Uffizi is a must but if we want to see the paintings there we’ll sensibly book on-line at

By the way, how do I explain the weird title of this post? Simple. Chimera’s dad was Typhon, the father of all monsters, and his mum was Echidna half-woman and half-snake, the mother of all monsters. Her name is now applied to the Australian spiny ant-eater since the little animal has features which make it seem half a reptile and half a mammal. On the other hand, it looks a lot cuter than that chimera.


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