The National Museum of Italian Emigration is about to open in Genoa: here's what it will look like

The National Museum of Italian Emigration will be born in Genoa, housed in the medieval Commenda di Prè: here's what it will look like and what stories it will tell.

Work has begun in Genoa to bring to life the National Museum of Italian Emigration (MEI), which will be housed in the halls of the Commenda di San Giovanni di Prè, the ancient convent, hospital and hostel built starting in 1180 by the Knights Hierosolimitani, today among the most important testimonies of medieval Genoa. The MEI was born from the strong desire to return to the general public, both national and international, the narrative of a vast and diverse heritage such as that linked to the history of Italian emigration, a heritage physically spread in numerous locations, both Italian and foreign, guarded by entities, state and local institutions, archives, museums, study and research centers, and emigrant associations. The interventions, amounting to about 5.3 million euros (of which 300,000 come from Fondazione San Paolo for the design; 3 million from MIBACT, as part of the Great Cultural Heritage Projects program; and 2 million from the Pact for Genoa, signed between the City and the Government), concern the functional adaptation, restoration and conservative rehabilitation of the Commenda and will last about a year.

Emigration, a theme very closely linked to Genoa, also has a close relationship with the Commenda di Prè, since for centuries this was a place of passage, hosting travelers arriving at the port of Genoa: the Commenda, since the 12th century, was a shelter for pilgrims heading to the Holy Land. The MEI will be a museum suitable for all audiences, including schools and families, which will be able to speak to everyone through different languages and with innovative and interactive museological modes, aided by those technologies that can facilitate the preservation and dissemination of memory. The exhibition itinerary will be built around the life stories of the protagonists of emigration: the experiences of individuals will be proposed to the visitor through primary sources such as autobiographies, diaries, letters, photographs, newspapers, songs and music that accompanied the emigrants, documents preserved by agencies, state and local institutions, archives, museums, and emigrant associations, which are part of the great network of collaboration that the MEI is building so that the new Museum will truly be a participatory museum, capable of renewal.

All these documents will contribute to the creation of a single narrative, capable of not flattening the phenomenon but showing it through its many facets and articulations. The MEI will also be a museum on the move: emigration is a journey, and those who enter will find themselves immersed in the journey through the images and stories of the millions of Italians who have left our country starting from the Unification of Italy in 1861 to the present day. The different “stations” that make up the itinerary will be able to “speak” differently depending on the interlocutor who will approach: this is thanks to a registration mechanism at the entrance that will allow languages, stories and documents to be calibrated according to the specific person who is making the journey. Data on departures, returns, destinations, work, health, food, racism, reception, the many different reasons for leaving Italy, which represent the great mosaic of migration will be communicated through tools that will also allow people to “take home” the content, perhaps to reflect on it later, or to share it together through social networks.

There will also be a space for reflection, the Memorial, which through art intends to be the emotional high point of the journey. The history of Italian emigration is in fact marked by a series of painful episodes, sometimes collective. A space inside will allow an in-depth look at some of these events, from the events of Aigües Mortes (1893) to the Marcinelle massacre (1956), passing through mining disasters and shipwrecks. But Italian emigration has not only had its destination abroad and does not only belong to the past. For this reason, the Museum will also tell the story of internal emigration, declined in its two major directions, from the countryside to the city and from the South to the North, and contemporary emigration, with the forms it took after 1973, the year of the epochal change, in which from a country of emigration, Italy became a country of immigration. The museum itinerary will also complement that of the Galata Museo del Mare, which for years has been offering visitors a multimedia experience with the Museo Memoria e Migrazioni, an interactive itinerary that evokes the ocean crossings of Italian migrants aboard steamships to the United States and South America, Brazil and Argentina; and that in a specific section recounts contemporary immigration to Europe.

The documents used in the construction of the museum’s itinerary are the result of research and studiesthat have seen the fundamental support and collaboration of scholars and institutions such as the International Center for the Study of Italian Emigration (CISEI) in Genoa, the National Diary Archive Foundation in Pieve Santo Stefano, the Pietro Conti Regional Museum of Emigration in Gualdo Tadino, the Central Institute for Sound and Audiovisual Assets, the Istituto Luce - Luce Historical Archives, the RAI, through the Rai-Teche Archives, the Central State Archives and the Historical Diplomatic Archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. There has also been no shortage of contacts with international museums and centers such as the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration, the MUNTREF -Museo de la Inmigración in Buenos Aires and the Museu da Imigração do Estado de São Paulo in São Paulo.

A fundamental role is also played by the numerous Associations of “Italians in the World,” a multiplicity of entities often very active, both in Italy and abroad, in international relations and with a strong impact on the communities of Italian expatriates. Collaborations with these Associations aim to make the constituent Museum a witness to the complexity of migratory phenomena and representative of all the country’s regional realities. The enthusiastic response of many of these Associations has made it possible to sign Memoranda of Understanding aimed at the exchange of documentation, transfer of knowledge and expertise, laying the foundations for a “assembly of participants” of the Museum itself that can give life in the future to initiatives and activities both in the national and international field.

Finally, the committee developed an important and constructive dialogue with a major institutional entity such as the Directorate General of Italians Abroad (DIGIT) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, also signing a memorandum of understanding with General Council of Italians Abroad (CGIE).

“A great operation of popular and collective memory of our country,” says Paolo Masini, chairman of the Steering Committee for the realization of the MEI. “Starting from individual personal stories, we get to reconstruct a phenomenon that is in the very soul of the roots of humanity. Women and men with the most diverse stories who have often been able to transform themselves into precious seeds in generous lands.”

“An important project for history, culture and tourism that today reaches the executive phase,” says Genoa Mayor Marco Bucci. “We know that Genoa has played a strategic role in the history of Italian emigration thanks to its port, a crossroads of people, goods, cultures. Dovve i Zeneixi vàn, ’n’atra Zena fan, said, according to tradition, the Anonimo Genovese: a testimony to our history as world migrants. History that will find space here, in premises renovated and rethought for this purpose. The MEI will also enjoy a strategic location: with the Aquarium and the Museum of the Sea just a stone’s throw away, the Museum of Emigration will complete a first-rate museum and tourist offer. Thanks to all the stakeholders who collaborated in the realization of the museum.”

Image: rendering of a room of the future MEI

The National Museum of Italian Emigration is about to open in Genoa: here's what it will look like
The National Museum of Italian Emigration is about to open in Genoa: here's what it will look like

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