The Italian Almanac

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Quirky Museums

From buttons to bells, from corkscrews to chimneysweeps, Italy is rife with quirky museums, and these are listed on the website www.insolitimusei.com along with proposed itineraries for those who like to step outside the box. The long list of odd museums is divided into unusual categories, such as "indescribable," "insatiable" and "ingenious," and includes such gems as the Museum of Faucets in Novara, the Umbrella and Parasol Museum near Milan, the Museum of Locks in Cedogno, near Parma, and the Corkscrew Museum, located in Barolo.

In the 1960s, police marshal Armando Spatafora chased the bad guys around the mean streets of Rome in a black 1962 Ferrari 250 GTE with 'Polizia 29444' plates. According to urban legend, Spatafora is said to have driven down the Spanish steps in this muscle car, provided by Ferrari test drivers, and which could reach 240 kilometers an hour. Aficionados of cops and robbers lore will enjoy a Roman museum entirely dedicated to historic police vehicles, including cars, motorcycles, scooters, and bicycles.

At the end of the 19th century a common practice among impoverished Northern families was to hire their children out to old chimneysweeps, who went door to door looking for new recruits. The baby chimneysweeps lived harsh lives, with their bosses often depriving them of food so they would remain thin enough to wiggle into the chimneys. The Chimneysweep Museum in Santa Maria Maggiore, in Piedmont, features photographs, personal testimonies, an interactive tour, and the tools of the trade.

The Sardinian Knife Museum, in Cagliari, is a treasure trove of steel and brass blades, with inlaid handles carved into the shapes of typical Sardinian wildlife such as deer, boar, and eagles. The highlight is The World's Heaviest Knife, as entered into the Guinness Book of World Records: made by artisan Paolo Pusceddu, the knife weighs 295 kilos and is 4.85 meters long.

The site comes with a map of Italy showing all the unusual museum locations, a link to a dedicated Facebook page, and a blog for users to enter their own pet quirky museums.