Enjoy Rome City Guide – Museums and Villas

Note: the following text is originally written in English, in other languages is an automatic translation
Some fabulous museums
Castel Sant’Angelo, Lungotevere Castello (Tues-Sun, 9am-7pm, €5/€2.50, slightly more when an exhibition is showing). Built by the Emperor Hadrian in the early 2nd century as his own mausoleum, the vast circular mass was once clad with travertine and marble, and planted with trees on top following Etruscan tradition. After the collapse of the Roman Empire, the building was stripped of its decorations, but saved from further ruin when it was converted in the 6th century into a castle. It takes its name from the vision seen by Pope Gregory the Great of the Archangel Michael, putting away his sword, interpreted as the end of the plague sweeping the city. A walkway still links the castle with the Vatican and in 1527 when Rome was sacked by the troops of Charles of Spain, Pope Clement VII fled the invasion to hide in the Castle, visit his tiny bathroom (frescoed by Raphael’s chum Giulio Romano). The castle offers a fabulous mix of Imperial, Medieval and Renaissance Rome, not to mention an excellent view and a café on the ramparts.

Galleria Borghese, Piazzale del Museo Borghese (Tues-Sun, 9am-7pm, €8.50/€5.25. Entrance every two hours only with pre-booked tickets. For reservations / 06 32810). The election of Camillo Borghese as Pope Paul V in 1605 saw a dramatic rise in the family’s already significant fortunes. Paul V’s nephew, Cardinal Scipione Borghese – a bon viveur with a good eye for a bargain – set about building a pleasure house in the family’s then suburban gardens (now the public park of the Villa Borghese). His was to be a “museum of the Universe”, filled with antiquities, contemporary sculpture and painting by such masters as Caravaggio and Bernini, as well as fossils and other natural curiosities. Around the building gardens with rare herbs, orangery and even an aviary completed the picture. The ground floor houses the sculpture collection, including six major works by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, within beautifully decorated rooms, remodeled in the 18th century, and a room with the six paintings by Caravaggio in the collection. Upstairs is the picture gallery, more works by Bernini are accompanied by works by Raphael, Titian, Rubens, and Correggio amongst many others.

Ara Pacis, between the Lungotevere in Augusta and Piazza Augusto Imperatore. (Tues-Sun, 9am-7pm, €6.50/€4.50). Inaugurated in 9 B.C., the altar of Augustan peace celebrated the end to civil war and struggle which the first Emperor brought to Rome. Originally located just off the via del Corso (then the via Flaminia), the Ara Pacis was moved to its current location by the Mausoleum of Augustus as part of Mussolini’s bombastic celebrations of the 2000th anniversary of Augustus’ birth. The leaky pavilion hurriedly thrown up by Mussolini was replaced in 2006 by the gleaming glass and travertine case designed by Richard Meier much to the chagrin of many, although we like it.

Villa Giulia, Piazzale di Villa Giulia. (€4/€2. Open Tues-Sun, 8:30am-7:30pm). The National Etruscan Museum is housed in the splendid mid 16th century villa of Pope Julius III. Designed in part by Michelangelo, it is well worth a visit in its own right. The mysterious Etruscans were a people who dominated the territories north of the Tiber for several centuries, most successfully in the 6th century B.C. when the last three kings of Rome were Etruscans. They spoke a language written with letters similar to Greek, but seemingly unconnected to any Indo-European language. The “Rosetta Stone” of Etruscan, the Lamine of Pyrgi, are three gold sheets upon which inscriptions in both Etruscan and Phoenician are inscribed. Another star piece of the collection is the fabulous Apollo of Veio, a slightly larger than life-size painted terracotta statue of the god dating back to around 500 B.C.

Palazzo Doria-Pamphilj, Via del Corso, 305. (€9.50, €7 conc. Closed Thursdays). At the Piazza Venezia end of the Corso, the Palazzo Doria-Pamphilj is one of the most important art collections in Rome still to be in private ownership. It gives a marvelous glimpse into the collecting whims of a major papal family in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, and your entrance fee includes a charming audio guide in English narrated by Jonathon Doria Pamphilj, the current head of the family. When Giovanni Battista Pamphilj was elected Pope Innocent X in 1644, the family fortunes took a definite turn for the better. A few strategic marriages and a bit of shrewd collecting later, and the Pamphilj had built an art collection which includes works by Raphael, Titian, Caravaggio, Velazquez and Bernini amongst others. A trust formed in the 17th century legally bound heirs to keep the collection intact, and masterpieces and lesser works are all the more fabulous for their setting in this beautiful (and under-visited) time machine.

Palazzo Barberini, Via Barberini (Metro: Barberini, 8:30am-7:30pm, Tues-Sun, €5, €2.50 concessions). Built by Pope Urban VIII of the Barberini family, this palace saw the work of some of the greatest names of the 17th century, architects included Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Francesco Borromini whilst the main hall has a breath-taking ceiling fresco by Pietro da Cortona. The collection includes the Fornarina by Raphael, said to be a portrait of his betrothed, a Holbein portrait of Henry VIII, and Caravaggio’s gory Judith and Holofernes, amongst much else in its recently restored rooms.

Galleria Nazionale di Arte Moderna, Viale delle Belle Arti 131 (Villa Borghese, 8:30am-7:30pm, Tues-Sun, €10/€8). On the other side of the Villa Borghese from the Galleria Borghese, this vast white Neoclassical building was built for an international exposition of 1911. It contains pieces from the 19th and 20th centuries, including a vast and spectacular sculpture of Hercules by Canova, and works by Modigliani, Cezanne, Duchamp, Braque, De Chirico, and Klimt.

MACRO (Museo di Arte Contemporaneo di Roma), (9am-7pm, Tues-Sun €4.50/€3.Ticket allows access to both MACRO and MACRO Future) via Reggio Emilia, 54 (close to Porta Pia). Opened in the late-90's in a converted brewery just outside the ancient city walls, MACRO was recently extended and offers a space for temporary shows of contemporary artists, both big names and young local talent. MACRO Future in the ex-Mattatoio at Testaccio (Piazza Giustiniani, 4pm-midnight Tues-Sun).

MAXXI (Museum of Art of the 21st century), via Guido Reni, 10. At the time of writing the building of MAXXI (by Anglo-Iraqi superstar architect Zaha Hadid) was finished, with the gallery’s opening scheduled for May 2010.
Rus in Urbe
When the traffic and crowds get to be too much, here are our favorite green spots in town:

Villa Borghese – Occupying the Pincio Hill, from outside the Porta del Popolo along to the top of the Spanish steps, the Borghese family’s 17th century sub-urban retreat was always intended as a space open to the public. It became the property of the city in the early 20th century. A stone’s throw from the bustling heart of the city, it is a popular spot for a stroll, picnic, bike ride, or a jaunt on the boating lake.

Villa Doria Pamphilj – Climb up the Janiculum from Trastevere, past the 17th century Fontanone (‘big fountain’, you can’t miss it), and past the Porta San Pancrazio to the entrance to the vast Villa Doria Pamphilj. Once the property of the aristocratic Doria Pamphilj family, it is now one of the city’s best loved open spaces.

Villa Celimontana – Up on the Caelian Hill, this was formerly property of the Mattei family, with its ancient palm trees it is a delightful spot for a stroll when the crowds around the nearby Colosseum get too much. On summer evenings the park is home to the Roma Jazz Festival.

Orto Botanico – The charming Botanical Gardens in Trastevere occupy part of what once was the garden of the Palazzo Corsini, for a period home to Queen Christina of Sweden. Officially opened in 1833, this had been the site of the cultivation of medicinal herbs since the 13th century.

Parco della Caffarella – Take the metro to Colli Albani, and pass the famed Napoleone “pasticceria” (pastry shop) down Via Menghini to enter this rural oasis, closely connected to some of the most archaic legends associated with the city.