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Hidden gems: Museums to see instead of the Sistine Chapel

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Le Marche, Italy
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Hidden gems: Museums to see instead of the Sistine Chapel

Possibly for the entire month of March, but at least for the duration of the papal conclave and some time before and after, the Sistine Chapel will be off limits to visitors, because the cardinals will be meeting there to elect a new pope.

It occurred to me that this might be a great time to get acquainted with some of Rome's hidden gems. Rome has at least a dozen great museums; here are some of my "hidden" favorites:

The Capitoline Museums has a superb collection of ancient art, especially sculpture. There are famous works such as the Capitoline Venus; and the Capitoline wolf, who legend says nursed the infant Romulus and Remus. You can also see the foundations of the ancient Temple of Jupiter, great views over the Roman Forum, and the original gilded bronze equestrian statue of the emperor Marcus Aurelius, whose copy is on the piazza outside. The piazza itself, designed by Michelangelo, is worth a visit. At the moment, there is a special exhibit about the golden age of the Roman Empire, called "Age of Balance". There is also an exhibit about "Tiffany and Gallé, Masters of Art Noveau". Tickets for the museum and the special exhibit 12 euros.

http://en.museicapitolini.org/

If you wait a minute, a slide show will start which will have some nice images of the museum and its collection.

The Barberini Gallery of Ancient Art, near Trevi Fountain, really is a gallery of art from the middle ages through early modern times. This is a world class museum that would have long lines in any other city with fewer great museums. There are masterpieces by Raphael, Caravaggio, Bernini, Bronzino, Lippi, El Greco, Hans Holbein's famous portrait of Henry VIII of England, Piero da Cortona's magnificent ceiling fresco - I'm sure I've overlooked some other great masters. The museum is set in a lovely Italian garden, and is famous for its two monumental staircases, one by Bernini and one by Borromini. Just recently, after a long restoration, the 18th century room used by the Barberini family for ceremonies has been reopened to the public. It can be visited on Saturday mornings at 11 AM with a guide (Italian, but you'll get to see the room). Tickets are 7 euros; the visit to the 18th century sala is 5 euros extra. For 9 euros you can get a joint ticket to the Barberini Gallery and the Corsini Gallery, another great museum, which I mention below.

galleriaborghese.it/barberini/en/einfo.htm

At the top of the page, it says Borghese Gallery, because tickets are sold through them, but all of the information on the page, pertains to the Barberini Gallery.

Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, near Termini station, is one of four sites of the National Museum of Rome. This is a world-class museum, almost unknown to tourists. It has a superb collection of ancient art, including statues, mosaics, and the frescoes from the House of Livia (wife of the Roman Emperor Augustus). There is also an exhibit of ancient Roman jewelry and coins. Tickets are 7 euros, and are good for three days, and allow you to see the other three sites of the National Roman Museum as well.

…beniculturali.it/en/museums/national-roman-…

The Corsini Gallery is a small museum in Trastevere, across the street from the Villa Farnesina, with a superb collection of paintings, collected in the 18th century by the nephew of Pope Clement XII. In this small gallery, there are works by Rubens, Van Dyck, Caravaggio, Beato Angelico, Gentileschi and Murillo. A lovely 15th century triptych by Beato Angelico has just returned to the gallery after restoration. Tickets are only 5 euros, or you can get a joint ticket with this and the Barberini Gallery for 9 euros.

galleriaborghese.it/corsini/en/edefault.htm

All of the above are state and city museums, and can be entered with the Roma Pass. I haven't mentioned another great museum, the Borghese Gallery, which is so well known that it could hardly be called a hidden gem.

There are also some private museums and palaces in Rome. One of the best known is the Doria Pamphilj Gallery, near the Pantheon. This palazzo is still owned and partly inhabited by descendants of the powerful Doria Pamphilj family. The gallery has some great works of art that were part of the family's collection over the centuries, and they're displayed on the walls as they were displayed in the Renaissance, covering nearly every inch of space. The rooms are furnished in the styles of various periods, and are very well preserved. The ticket price, 10.50 euros, includes an excellent audio guide narrated by a member of the family. There are often concerts held in the gallery; see the link on the right side. This is one of the few museums in Rome that's open on Mondays.

http://www.doriapamphilj.it/home.asp

The Villa Farnesina is a Renaissance villa in Trastevere, across from the Corsini Gallery. It's set in a beautiful garden, and some of the rooms are decorated with frescoes by Raphael. Tickets are 5 euros, a great bargain. This museum is also open on Mondays, but it closes every day at 2 PM. It's normally closed Sundays, but on the second Sunday of each month, it's open from 9 AM to 5 PM, with guided tours and a concert of Renaissance music.

http://www.villafarnesina.it/?lang=en

The French Embassy occupies the Palazzo Farnese, once the city home of the Farnese family. It's on Piazza Farnese, and was designed by MIchelangelo. Until recently, it was open only by appointment, but not it can be visited three days a week, with a reserved tour. Part of the building will be closed for restoration starting in mid-March, but beginning then, visitors will be taken to see some of the rooms on the upper level that have never been open to the public before.

inventerrome.com/index.php/en/visiting-the-p…

The Villa Medici, in the Villa Borghese park, is the headquarters of the French Academy. They have guided visits in English at noon every day.

villamedici.it/en/…

The Colonna Gallery is in the palazzo of the powerful Colonna family, which can trace its heritage all the way back to ancient Roman times. This magnificent palazzo, which also has a gallery of the family's art collection, can be visited on Saturdays only:

http://www.galleriacolonna.it/en/

(This is the only place on my list that I haven't visited personally.)

Other hidden gems are the Villa Giulia, the museum of the Etruscan civilization, in the Villa Borghese park; and the museum of the Baths of Diocletian, part of the National Museum of Rome, and on the same ticket.

I hope this will give people who are visiting March during the papal conclave some ideas for alternative visits. None of these museums is ever crowded, and most are very reasonably priced and easy to get to. Maybe it will even encourage others to get off the overly beaten tourist path and see some of the lovely places in this city that most tourists miss.

Northumberland, UK
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11. Re: Hidden gems: Museums to see instead of the Sistine Chapel

Fantastic post bvlenci - thank you! Obviously if you are a first timer to Rome you will want to visit the Vatican museums & Sistine chapel but I have to say that the first time we visited we were totally underwhelmed by the experience (due to the crowds of people ). On the other hand seeing the original of the Marcus Aurelius statue in the Capitoline museums was strangely moving and the frescoes in Palazzo Massimo were mind blowing and, what's more we had them all to ourselves.

Centrale Montemartini is on our list for our next visit as is the Corsini Gallery after reading your post - never knew there was a Caravaggio there!

Many thanks once again

Norwich, United...
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12. Re: Hidden gems: Museums to see instead of the Sistine Chapel

To get this great thread back to the top of the Forum, perhaps I can offer some photos - not only from places already mentioned, but also of others that may not yet have come to everyone's notice?

Around 40 museums, sites and other attractions...

http://www.pbase.com/isolaverde/places_rome

... a couple of dozen churches and basilicas...

http://www.pbase.com/isolaverde/rome_churches

... and rather too many pictures of the city's fountains!

http://www.pbase.com/isolaverde/r_founts

(With apologies if my hosting site is a bit slow today?)

Peter

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13. Re: Hidden gems: Museums to see instead of the Sistine Chapel

If you like some art that is not of the older variety (for lack of a better word) - I personally like the Goethe House, the small Museo di Roma in Trastevere (usually has an interesting photography exhibit upstairs, with another sort (paint, photo, etc) downstairs as well as the most goofy (sorry, they are) dioramas of old Rome - I always go to this museum every trip and have seen some wonderful works.

http://en.museodiromaintrastevere.it

http://www.casadigoethe.it

I also like the Ara Pacis - they have some interesting exhibits (some more than others, like any museum).

http://www.arapacis.it

There is also the Museo of Criminology just off Via Giulia which I must say is one of my favorite more bizarre finds - loved it though.

http://www.museocriminologico.it/index_uk.htm

I know that first timers will usually see want to see much of the amazing works as presented in all the great choices above - I have done and more than once (or ten times) but if the mood strikes where you want something a bit different (again, for lack of a better word) - these are interesting smallish venues.

I saw the most amazing exhibit in December at the Ara Pacis - it was an exhibit of all the films that one Italian promoter worked on to promote - the entire space was full of his handiwork and it was just such fun and gave me some new perspectives on many of the Italian films I had seen. There were I think about 3 other people in the entire place. Not the usual slice of Italian history one might come across, but a bit of their history nonetheless and it was delightful.

Le Marche, Italy
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14. Re: Hidden gems: Museums to see instead of the Sistine Chapel

I once saw a great Chagall exhibit at the Ara Pacis.

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15. Re: Hidden gems: Museums to see instead of the Sistine Chapel

To be used with some care - a guide to the many "Museums of Rome"...

www.pbase.com/isolaverde/museums_of_rome

Peter

Le Marche, Italy
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16. Re: Hidden gems: Museums to see instead of the Sistine Chapel

There are many, many museums in Rome that I didn't mention. I was trying to focus on those that would appeal to the same sort of art lover who would be disappointed at not seeing the Sistine Chapel, which I assume is someone who is interested in the art of the Renaissance. For this reason, I skipped several great museums of modern and contemporary art. I also wanted to focus on "little known" museums. I skipped the Borghese Gallery, which it seems to me is already very well known indeed, as so many people who decide to go to two museums choose that as the second one. I hesitated about including the Capitoline Museums, because I think it's maybe the third best known museum in Rome.

However, since producing my list, I'm beginning to feel that many of these self-proclaimed art lovers just want to see the Sistine Chapel, and I'm not sure they really care much for art at all.

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17. Re: Hidden gems: Museums to see instead of the Sistine Chapel

I think you are bvlenci. It is not about tha quality of the art. The Sistine Chapel is simply on the list of things that should be seen in Rome, and people don't realise (care?) that there are many other fantastic and fascinating things to see simply because they are not on the standard list.

It is worth noting also that over the centuries opinions have varied about what makes the Sistine Chapel exceptional. Now the focus tends to be on the ceiling, whereas at one time the ceiling used to be almost completely ignored in favour of the Last Judgement. Moreover almost noone looks at the side walls, which prior to Michelangelo's intervention were seen as one of the glories of art in their own right, and are still well deserving of attention.

It is all about seeing what you are supposed to see, rather than about appreciating great art

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18. Re: Hidden gems: Museums to see instead of the Sistine Chapel

Given recent practices in the Rome and Greece Forums, I am now waiting to see how long it is before the above post is deleted for being offensive (:

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19. Re: Hidden gems: Museums to see instead of the Sistine Chapel

Bvlenci- Thanks! That is very helpful.

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20. Re: Hidden gems: Museums to see instead of the Sistine Chapel

Herodotus, I think we all have those things that excite or interest us, and those things that don't. I try to tell people about the things I find interesting, but I also try to remember that we don't all have the same interests. I have 3 friends with whom I have traveled who have given me insight-one is an artist, who looks at paintings and sees things I never would notice. One is a photographer, who is more interested in creating art with his camera than in seeing art. The third is a chef, who travels to eat, and has little interest in art. (The artist, incidentally, has just as little interest in food.)

I personally feel that people who treat their travel as a checklist of must-sees are missing a lot, but if they go home happy, so be it. All that I can do is tell them what is meaningful to me. For me (and I offer this thought simply because it might make some people who will miss the Sistine Chapel over the next few weeks feel less bad about it), there are thousands of pictures of the Sistine Chapel that can reveal its wonders. There are many other things you can see, whether in the Vatican or elsewhere, that you will not see anywhere else. If your interest in the Sistine Chapel is that you want to commune with the great master's artistry first hand, there are many opportunities to get much closer to Michaelangelo's art than in the chapel, and without being in the art gallery equivalent of a mosh pit.

But whatever we do, I hope we all find our "wow" moments. (I tell people this in New York all the time.) If you go home without them, then that is the real loss.