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.
MUSEI VATICANI (VATICAN MUSEUMS)
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
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
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.
MUSEO NAZIONALE ROMANO (NATIONAL ROMAN MUSEUM)
Open Tuesday-Saturday 9a-2p year round, Sunday and Public Holidays
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
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.
PALAZZO MASSIMO ALLE TERME
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!)
MUSEO PREHISTORICO ED ETNOGRAFICO (PREHISTORIC
AND ETHNOGRAPHIC MUSEUM)
Open Tuesday-Saturday 9a-7p year round, Sunday
and public holidays 9a-1:30p . Piazza Guglielmo Marconi, 14;
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.
MUSEO CAPITOLINI (CAPITOLINE MUSEUMS)
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.
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.
MUSEO DELLA CIVILTA’ ROMANA
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.
MUSEO DELLE MURA
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.
MUSEO NAZIONALE DELLE ARTI E TRADIZIONI
(NATIONAL MUSEUM OF ART AND POPULAR TRADITION)
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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