The birth of the Prehistoric and Protohistoric Collections, formed initially by donations and bequests in the 19th century, was formalised by Royal Decree on 13 November 1862. This act marked the establishment in Milan’s Santa Maria di Brera, of the Museo Patrio di Archeologia (National Archaeological Museum), the aim of which was to collect works and documents from prehistory to modern times.

The headquarters in Brera soon proved to be inadequate and in 1900 the collections, along with all the archaeological material, were moved to the new Civic Museum located in the Sforza Castle. The bulk of the prehistoric and protohistoric artefacts ended up relegated to the basement of the building.

The expansion of the collections

In those same years, however, the collections were increased by numerous donations. A valuable collection of prehistoric artifacts from the Paleolithic period (mainly from Italian and French sites) to the Iron Age (from northern Italy and the Alpine region) were donated by Pompeo Castelfranco (1843-1921), a great scholar of Lombard archeology. The artifacts came either from excavations or from exchanges with Italian and foreign scholars and collectors.

In the mid-1960s the Greek, Etruscan and Roman collections were moved from the Castle to the new museum, housed in the former convent of the Monastery of San Maurizio Maggiore, while the Egyptian and paleethnological collections stayed at the Castle. It was only in the 1970s that the exhibits were organized into a chronological itinerary in the basement of the Rocchetta courtyard.

In 2003 they were moved back into the underground rooms of the Ducal Court.