Originating in 1911 as the Municipal Museum of History and Art (Museo Civico di Storia e d’Arte), the Koper Regional Museum is housed in the spacious early 17th-century Belgramoni Tacco Palace in the Koper city centre and covers the cultural heritage in the Primorska region. The museum manages also the Museum Gallery, set just beside the palace, the Carpaccio House and the Ethnological Collection, located in the nearby Venetian-Gothic building, as well as the Prem Castle above the Reka Valley.
The first initiatives to establish a museum in Koper-Capodistria took place as early as the late-18th century, but the main push for its foundation was provided by the first exhibition of the Istrian Region in Koper (Prima Esposizione Provinciale Istriana) in 1910. One year later, the then Municipality of Koper-Capodistria established the Municipal Museum of History and Art (Museo Civico di Storia e d’Arte), and after World War I, the spacious early 17th-century Belgramoni Tacco Palace building was set aside for use as a museum.
During World War II, the permanent collection was seriously impaired when many precious works of art were evacuated to Friuli (Villa Manin in Passariano). When “Zone B” was incorporated into Slovenia in 1954, the museum was renamed the District Museum; in 1967, its name was changed to the Koper Regional Museum (Museo Regionale di Capodistria). From 1981 to 1985, the museum’s central building was completely renovated, bringing an expansion of the museum’s activities and a new arrangement of its collections. The museum was thoroughly renovated once again in 2015.
In addition to the art and cultural history of the Primorska region, the museum covers the archaeological, historical, ethnological and cultural heritage of the coastal and karst areas. Considerable attention is paid to diverse participation in cultural, scientific and educational establishments and projects.
Today, the parent museum building presents an archaeological collection and collections covering the culture, art and history of Istra from its very beginning to the end of the 19th century. The conservation-restoration workshop preserves the museum material and organises technical days and workshops at the temporary exhibitions in the context of educational activities.
The Koper Regional Museum manages several satellites; in 1983 the Ethnological Collection of Koper Regional Museum was established as an independent branch. A permanent collection was opened in Prem Castle in 2008, presenting castles and building sites in the Reka river basin. There is also the Museum Gallery, located next to the Palace Belgramoni Tacco and used to present temporary exhibitions. Recently, the museum has also opened an interactive digital exhibition on Vittore Carpaccio in the Carpaccio House, the 14th-century Venetian-Gothic residential building owned and inhabited by the famous painter’s descendants.
The permanent exhibition Between the Serenissima, Napoleon and the Habsburgs covers the period from the 16th to the 19th century. It holds numerous artefacts from the daily life of the nobility and presents some of the most prominent residents of the area. There is also an exhibition of weapons from the same era, in which, for example, one can trace the fast development of rifles in the 19th century.
Very important are also the Art History Collections, which display and reflect on the great wealth of the Istrian artistic heritage, from the second half of the 15th century onward. This collection is complemented by collections of arts and crafts from the Renaissance and the Gothic periods. Among other permanent collections, one on musical life in the present-day coastal towns of Slovenia from the Middle Ages to the end of the 20th century is especially notable.
The Archaeological Collection covers all archaeological periods from prehistory (from the Palaeolithic to the Iron Age) throughout Roman times to the Middle Ages in the Primorska region. One of the many significant archaeological finds is also the late Roman coin hoard, which derives from the late Roman army camp on the site Čentur.
In the pavilion along the museum’s lapidary, the collection of the 20th century From Austria-Hungary to Yugoslavia is presented. It covers the life of the Slovenians in the Southern Primorska region that belonged to Italy after the World War I and their resistance to fascism, portrayed also on the famous Rapallo painting by Tone Kralj. The display also covers the regional post-war development in Socialist Yugoslavia and ends with the establishment of the new border in 1954.
The lapidary collection and the open-air collection in the palace garden present the oldest material culture of the coastal and karst areas. The culture and art history collection consists of sculptures, paintings and arts and crafts products, arranged chronologically and thematically, from early medieval sculptures with guilloche ornamentation (9th–11th centuries) to a fresco copy of the well-known The Dance of Death from Hrastovlje and inscriptions in the Glagolitic alphabet, the oldest-known Slavic script.
Virtual museum tour
As of 2016, the museum itself (at least its main premises, the Belgramoni Tacco Palace) has been thoroughly digitised, as one can now embark on a virtual 3D tour of the museum. One cannot only take a walk around the palace and the museum artefacts, but specific information on particular pieces is also available, along with a specially prepared audio guide.