The history of Palazzo dei Musei begins when the Franciscans settled there in 1256, transforming it into a convent. In 1798, due to the Napoleonic suppressions, the site was abandoned and used as a barracks and stable. After the Restoration, the building houses the Royal legal boarding school and the Royal Lyceum of Chemistry and Physics. Precisely the presence of scientific schools led to the decision, in 1830, to set up the private collection of Lazzaro Spallanzani, then in 1862 the collection nuclei of Gaetano Chierici, the naturalistic zoological collections of Antonio Vallisneri and the collections of Ethnography, reorganized in 1999.The Portico dei Marmi, established in 1875 and restored in 1991, houses stone finds and epigraphs from the Roman era to the 18th century. Roman architectural marbles are also exhibited outdoors in the adjacent Cloister. The Atrium of the Museums preserves mosaics dating back to the Roman age and the 12th and 13th centuries. The room dedicated to the Reggio Romana (1996-1998) is an ideal extension of the Chierici Collection, and includes archaeological finds from the Roman foundation of the city to late antiquity. In the naturalistic field, the collections dedicated to Geology (1989), to the Fauna of Reggio (1992) and the exhibition of the remains of the Valentina whale (2001), a 3.5 million-year-old fossil cetacean found in the valley of the Secchia river, have been added. .
In 2021 the new layout of the second floor was inaugurated, which offers a narrative from the Prehistory of the Reggio area up to the early Middle Ages. The historical-artistic section continues from the centuries of the Este family to the First Tricolor up to the nineteenth century and to the contemporary, represented by the photographic heritage collected or commissioned within the European Photography project. A permanent section, with rotating exhibitions, is dedicated to the production of Luigi Ghirri.