The House Museum
The House Museum of Ghilarza preserves and exhibits Antonio Gramsci’s material legacy.
There is a small corpus of everyday and work items, toys he built and gave to his wife and children, things from his prison life that his wife Julka (Giulia) Schucht and children Delio and Giuliano kept in Moscow, and things kept in Sardinia by his sister, Teresina Gramsci Paulesu.
These are the only objects that still exist, aside from papers and books, that belonged to Antonio Gramsci.
The House Museum consists of 6 rooms: 3 on the ground level, including a small garden with another little room, and 3 on the upper floor.
Ground level – The Entrance Hall
In the entrance hall on the left, a flight of stairs leads to the first floor, and on the wall to the right, which had an old chest against it for many years, there is a large photograph of the young Gramsci.
Ground level – Room 1: The Guest Room
To the right of the entrance hall, one enters what would have been called at one time the ‘good bedroom’. It was not a sitting room or a place to entertain, but rather a room for guests that in the past contained a bed, two chairs, a small table and a desk.
Those coming in will find on the wall in front of them a large reproduction on plexiglass of the moving letter Gramsci wrote to his mother on 10 May 1928 from the San Vittore prison in Milan. In it, he recalls being detained for political reasons, finding himself serving a sentence for not wanting to change his opinions and not having anything to be ashamed of, but regretting having caused her so much grief.
‘…I would really like to hold you close so that you would feel how much I love you and how I would like to comfort you during this sorrow I have created for you: but I could not have done anything different. Life is like this, very hard, and at times sons must create great grief for their mothers if they want to preserve their honour and their dignity as men.’
On the wall to the right there is the portrait on a red background that artist George de Canino painted in 1996 as an homage to Gramsci.
On a typical table (‘sa mesa’) from the Sardinian tradition there is a collection of the 1919-1920 and 1924-1925 issues of L’Ordine Nuovo, the newspaper Gramsci founded in 1919 with Palmiro Togliatti, Angelo Tasca and Umberto Terracini.
In a corner of this room, a multimedia station offers visitors a place to hear the oral accounts of more than forty people who had known Gramsci when he was actively working, or in his political struggle and in his human relationships. These include Sandro Pertini, Umberto Terracini, Luigi Longo, Ignazio Silone and Lelio Basso. These statements were collected during the mid-nineteen-seventies by Gramsci’s niece, Mimma Paulesu Quercioli, as part of the preparations for the museum.
Ground floor – Room 2: The Kitchen
Past the entrance to the house is the kitchen with the cannitzada ceiling typical of old Sardinian houses, and a well; the room used to include some masonry stoves. Currently, the corner of this room holds a workstation for the museum’s staff.
Ground floor – Room 3: The Dining Room
To the right of the kitchen, there is what used to be the Gramsci family’s dining room, which in Gramsci’s day was furnished with a table in the centre, a sofa and a sideboard against the wall. Now the room acts as a library and displays paintings donated over the years by various artists.
Also in this room is a station where where the digital versions of Gramsci’s writings can be consulted thanks to the Gramsci Foundation of Rome.
Ground floor – 4 & 5: Courtyard and Sa omo ‘e su forru
The kitchen leads to the courtyard and to another small building, which is called istaulu o sa omo ‘e su forru in Sardinian, a place where bread used to be baked. It now contains some art works, including a mixed media work by American Sarai Sherman that depicts Gramsci in prison in Turi. This work was donated to the House Museum in 1977.
The surrounding garden is where, as a child, Antonio played with his brothers and the animals he brought from the countryside. During the summer of 1912, back home from Turin, feeling ill and unable to devote himself to writing, he built the flowerbed bordered by stones along the wall that still stands, where he planted roses and lemon verbena.
On the upper floor of the house, which used to contain 3 bedrooms, there is an exhibit created by Elsa Fubini, who with Sergio Caprioglio edited the 1965 Einaudi edition of the Letters from Prison. A series of Gramsci’s belongings, consisting of documents, photographs and newspaper articles, offers a tour of the most important stages of his life.
First floor – Room 6: Bedroom
This room now holds 2 of the 9 show cases. In one, which brings the visitor back to the terrible speech by Public Prosecutor Michele Isgrò during the 1928 trial (We must stop his brain from functioning for twenty years), there are letters, books, toys and personal effects he used during his years in prison. The other show case it calls up memories and accounts from the people connected to Gramsci by affection, love and friendship.
Close by you will see also a typical Sardinian cart that was used in many areas of Sardinia until the middle of the twentieth century, a faithful reproduction that Gramsci built in 1922 while staying in a nursing home in Serebryany Bor near Moscow and that was donated to the House Museum by his son Giuliano. It shows an aptitude for practical tasks referred to many times in his Letters from Prison, one that can also be seen in the two stone spheres that Antonio and his brothers polished, which, along with a wooden dumbbell, they used for exercise (exhibited on the first floor, Room 7, display 3).
On the wall in front of the stairway, a large plexiglass panel shows a picture of the prison cell in Turi, near Bari, where Gramsci lived for more than five years. It also has a reproduction of an excerpt from the letter he wrote to his mother on February 29, 1932. Despite his suffering and his long imprisonment, Antonio kept up his sense of irony:
Dear mother, … I should also say to Teresina that I thank her and her children for the thought they had of sending me the violets from Chenale and the bulbs of wild cyclamen, but I cannot accept their gifts; this would be against the rule that seeks to maintain the punishing character of a prison sentence. So I must suffer, and therefore no violets and cyclamen, no little devils from nature must tickle my nostrils with fragrance, nor my eyes with the colours of flowers…
First floor – Room 7: Bedroom
In the second bedroom, where the Gramsci children and their aunt Grazia used to sleep, there are now the other 7 show cases. These recreate through letters, documents and photographs the attention Gramsci paid to the Sardinian language and his native city, his university days in Turin, his work as a journalist, his political militancy until his arrest, his internment, prison and death.
First floor – Room 8: Bedroom
The last bedroom with the ceiling a cannitzada and a window facing the garden, was his parents’ room. It used to contain a bookshelf, and Antonio would read there for almost the entire day. Currently, this room holds some furniture from the Gramsci House that help to reconstruct young Gramsci’s bedroom: a chest of drawers, a bed (the one from the ‘good bedroom’ where Antonio slept as a boy) and a basin he used to wash up.
The Gramsci House Museum of Ghilarza has received the attention of the Regional Commission for the cultural heritage of Sardinia as having cultural, historic and artistic interest with Decree no. 6 of January 26, 2016. Fifty years after its establishment in the Italian Parliament, Law no. 207 of November 3, 2016 declared it to be a National Monument.