Rome museums

Rome set the foundations of the western world, and also largely contributed to the world culture in innumerable fields throughout nearly 3,000 years of history. This brought to the creation of countless masterpieces and artifacts, preserved in museums and art galleries. The distinctive value of Rome museum and art galleries thus goes beyond the admirable collections which they preserve. More than it occurs anywhere else, they shed light on the various historical and cultural eras of Rome and of the western world, and on their underlying societies, which would remain otherwise obscure. In other words visiting museums and art galleries in Rome is as important as visiting the sights, the monuments, the fountains, the piazzas. Rome manufacts can be found in the streets, yet Roman masterpieces side by side with artifacts are found in museums. Imagine a water jug from 4000 years ago, or the small shoe of a child who has long been gone. These are the places where wars, eras, and lost civilizations rekindle vividly their evidence.


Open March 1-October 29/December 20-December 30 8:45a-3:45p, rest of year 8:45a-12:45p.
Closed Sunday except the last Sunday of each month wherein admission is free from 9:00a-1:45p

The Vatican Museums consist of more than 1400 rooms, and 12 complexes, divided into four separate museums. This is why the Italians call them "Museums" (plural), as opposed to the English "Museum".
It is best to understand that to explore them in their vast enormity would require more than 1 afternoon. Most visitors being short on time however, choose to observe only the highlights. These include: The Sistine Chapel, the Rooms of Rafael, the Gallery of the Maps, the Gallery of Tapestries, the Octagonal Courtyard, and the Belvedere Torso.

Prepare yourself for a voyage encountered by various mediums of art. From the Tapestries designed by the New School of Rafael (Belgian Woven), to the Painted Galleries of Maps showing all of Italy, compiled in 1580 (before cartography was a science performed from aircraft).

The Vatican Museum entrance

From the sculptures (and fragments of sculptures), to the very floors under your feet and the ceilings high above your head—all is an infiltration of the senses. The museums are inside Vatican City, which is a separate entity from Rome.

The biggest misconception regarding the Vatican Museums is that they are one gigantic collection housed in a single building. On the contrary, the Museums are 5 separate collections contained within a multitude of apartments, palaces, and chapels. The museums were originally intended to provide residence and protection for the Pope. In 1932 the private papal collections were opened to the public as a way to gain financial means (the Museums see more than 30,000 visitors a day)

Within the Museums, there is the Sistine Chapel. The Chapel, built in 1477, is used for Papal functions, including the conclave of cardinals (the election of the pope).

There are 3 major works inside the chapel. The lower walls are lined with stunning frescoes. The front wall which is The Last Judgment and the famous ceiling were both done by Michelangelo.

The lower Frescos were done in the Renaissance by the most popular artists of the period. The most beautiful are by Boticello, Perugino, and Ghirlando.

Make sure to arrive early in the morning to avoid the long lines

Michelangelo was commissioned in 1503 by Pope Julius the II to paint the ceilings, upon a recommendation by Bramante. Bramante’s motive was not a friendly one. His suggestion was based on the knowledge that Michelangelo was a sculptor, not a painter. Bramante hoped that he would fail in creating a beautiful piece of work. The ceiling was Michelangelo’s first painting. He spent 2 years just learning the techniques of Fresco. In the center of the ceiling there are 9 main panels. The first 3 represent the creation of the earth by God. They are as follows: 1. God creating light and darkness. 2. Creation of the Sun and Moon 3.The Separation of Land from Water. The middle portion of the ceiling shows the scenes of the Garden of Eden in the following order: 1. The Creation of Adam 2.The Creation of Eve 3.The Original Sin. The final part of the ceiling has 3 scenes of Noah from the Old Testament including: 1. The Sacrifice of Noah 2.The Flood 3.The Drunkenness of Noah. In total the ceiling took 4 years to complete. Michelangelo worked 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, with hardly any pay.

Over 30 years Later Michelangelo returned to the Vatican to paint The Last Judgment. This painting is over 200 square meters and has over 391 larger than life figures. The upper part of the painting shows heaven. The lower part of the painting is Hell. In the center is a beautiful and aggressive Christ shown next to his Mother Mary, casting judgment on the souls of saints. The atmosphere of this painting is much different than that of the ceiling. It reflects the atmosphere of Rome at the time, after the plague and the sack of Rome. In the skin held by Saint Bartholomew is said to be a self-portrait done by Michelangelo. The look of anguish reflects his feeling of spiritual turmoil.

In 1981 a Japanese television station was commissioned by the Vatican to undergo a major restoration project. The work took over 12 years and is highly controversial. The technique used to restore the Chapel was an experimental technique using wax. The result was devastating as the wax removed much of the original paint. The paint was than analyzed so that the intended colors by Michelangelo were re-applied, but many experts argue that the new colors are much too bright. On the other hand, many details of Michelangelo’s work which were covered with 500 years of dirt can now be seen.

While Michelangelo was downstairs painting the Chapel, Rafael was upstairs painting his 4 rooms, known as Stanze di Raffaello. The most famous School of Athens is among these rooms. This amazing piece of work depicts philosophers, mathematicians, astronomers, architects, artists, and writers all searching for a universal truth. In the Center there is Plato side by side with Aristotle. Many of the figures have the faces of Rafael’s peers and colleagues. There is also a self-portrait of Rafael, and a portrait of Michelangelo.

The Sarcophagi of Constatino are especially intriguing. You will find these 2 beautiful tombs on your way into the Sistine Chapel. The Sarcophagi are made from a particular red marble found only in Tuscany. The one on the left was originally intended to be the resting place of Emperor Constantine (Hence the battle scenes on the outside). He used it instead for his mother St. Helen, whom died unexpectedly. The smaller one on the right was the tomb of Constantine’s young daughter. Note the difference in the carvings. The one intended for the child is much softer, with images of flowers, and fruit.

Be sure not to miss the Statue of Apollo and the Laocoon in the Octagonal Courtyard, as well as the Belvedere Torso, which if encountered at precisely high noon, displays a beautiful shaft of light from an above window across the chest of the ancient torso. There is also an amazing Egyptian collection, an Etruscan museum, and a Pinacoteca.


Open Tuesday-Saturday 9a-2p year round, Sunday and Public Holidays 9a-1p
Piazza Sant’Apollinare, 46; Tel. 06 683 3566

The Museo Nazionale Romano (also referred to as the Museo Delle Terme) is ancient Roman artistry at its best. Mostly derived from classical Greece, these Roman sculptures lie alongside a remarkable display of Baths. Roman bath houses were among the top social gatherings of ancient times. The bathing process included the Calidarium (hot bath), Tepidarium (warm bath), a scraping of the skin by a slave (if one could afford it), and finally a douse of cold water or Frigidarium.
Much of the archeological collection of Museo Nazionale Romano has been moved to the Palazzo Altemps, and the Palazzo Massimo.


Open Tuesday-Saturday 9a-7p, Sunday 9am-8pm.
Via di Sant’Apollinare 8; tel: 06 683 3759

Situated in a beautifully restored Renaissance palace, this museum has sculptural exhibits from the Ludovisi collection. Ludovico Ludivisi was the nephew of Pope Gregory XV. The collections in this Palazzo have been narrowed down to only the finest work. The rooms are curated in a manner that allows for the least distraction. Many of the rooms have only a sole piece of art.
The Ludovisi Orestes and Electra are among the highlights of this museum. These 1st century statues were done by Menelaus (the artist was kind enough to leave his signature). Next to these enchanting works you will find the Ludovisi Ares, a seated figure which is probably a Roman copy of a Greek original. Later, this statue was restored by Bernini. In The Tale of Moses Room you will find one of Rome’s most celebrated pieces of sculpture--The Ludovisi Throne. This throne is believed to have been a 5th century B.C. Greek original, found in Calabria, southern Italy.


Open Tuesday-Saturday 9a-6:45p, Sunday 9a-7:45p
Piazza dei Cinquecento 67; tel: 06 4890 3500

The Palazzo Massimo Alle Terme is considered the sister museum to the Palazzo Altemps. Together they form part of the Museo Nazionale Romano. This museum is an example of an outstanding new frontier of Museums opened in Rome in the last decade. Unlike the Palazzo Altemps, which is dedicated mostly to sculpture, this Palazzo showcases stunning mosaics as well. Also, there are sprawling wall paintings taken from various villas around Rome. One which is particularly eye-catching is that taken from Villa della Farnesia which reveals the wedding scenes of the daughter of Augustus.
Downstairs there are remarkable displays of sculpture that date back to the early 1st century A.D. Because these displays (mostly portraits of early Romans) are arranged in chronological order one can easily follow the change in trends throughout Roman history (not only in style of sculpture, but also the style of the Romans themselves!)


Open Tuesday-Saturday 9a-7p year round, Sunday and public holidays 9a-1:30p . Piazza Guglielmo Marconi, 14; Tel. 06549521

This museum was intended to be part of the focal point of a universal exhibition imagined by Mussolini. The exhibition was to mark the anniversary of his march on Rome. Later, his plans were curtailed by World War II. Inside, the Museum boasts an extensive collection of prehistoric artifacts, which tell the story of early cultural development in the areas surrounding Rome. In addition, there is an expansive ethnographic collection.


Open Tuesday-Saturday 9a-7p year round, Sunday and public holidays 9a-1:30p Piazza del Campidoglio; tel: 06 6710 2071

The Capitoline Museums are located on The Campidogio, the Roman seat of power. This is the smallest, albeit the most important of Rome'’s seven hills. The museums are divided amongst two late-renaissance palaces, beautiful in their own right, and designed by Michelangelo. The first of the two palaces is Palazzo Nuovo. This is considered the smaller, but richer of the two showcases. Safely behind glass on the ground floor is the original statue of Marcus Aurelius (The one in the outside piazza is a copy), dating back to the end of the Aurelius reign (1st cent. AD). Also on the upper floor one must not miss the headless Capitoline Venus who stands alone in a room of her own.

Campidoglio (Capitol)

In the Palazzo dei Conservatori one will find examples of classical pieces. Among these incredible pieces of work are the fragments of a colossal statue of Emperor Constantine. Constantine was the founder of Christianity and donated the four most recognized basilicas in Rome.
Work done by Bernini, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Rubens, and Vermeer can be found in the Pinacoteca Capitolina. Caravaggio’s Gypsy and the Fortune-Teller is especially alluring. Also find the Rape of Sabines one of several influential narrative paintings done by Pietro da Cortona.


Open Tuesday-Saturday 9a-6p, Sunday 9a-2p EUR, Piazza Giovanni Agnelli 10; tel: 06 592 6135

In futurist EUR, Mussolini’s model of the ideal modern city is the Museo Della Civilta' Romana. This superb museum puts justification to the history of Rome with the aid of many models and reconstructions. The highlight of the museum is the full-scale model of the city of 4th century Rome. This model shows every building that stood within the Aurelian walls in the time of Hadrian.


Open Tuesday-Saturday 9a-7p Porta San Sebastiano, Via Appia Antica

This Museum which lies in the towers of the Porta San Sebastiano boasts a moderate yet illuminating collection which traces the history of the Aurelian Walls as well as the Appia Antica (The Appian Way). This Ancient road which dates back to 4th century B.C. was the first Roman road to be built. It is also referred to as the “Queen of Roads” because of its length, strength and greatness.


Open Tuesday-Sunday 9a-7p EUR, Piazza Marconi 8-10; tel: 06 592 6148

This fascinating museum found in the business district of EUR, is devoted to showcasing Italian folk-art, agriculture, costume, and old musical instruments. It also has an impressive ethnographic record detailing rural Italy.

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