Rome's Top 10 : Museo Nazionale Romano (part 1)

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The National Museum of Rome, with its excellent Classical art collection, grew too vast for its home in the Baths of Diocletian, which closed in 1981. In 1998 the collection was split between various sites, becoming a truly modern, 21st-century museum. The Ludovisi, Mattei and Altemps collections of sculpture moved into the gorgeous 16th-century Palazzo Altemps near Piazza Navona (see Palazzo Altemps Collection). The 19th-century Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, a former Jesuit College near Termini, received some of the best individual sculptures, as well as ancient mosaics and fantastic frescoes, some never previously displayed, as detailed below. The ancient Aula Ottagona inherited the oversized bathhouse sculptures; the Baths of Diocletian re-opened in 2000 with an important epigraphic collection and exhibition space.

Palazzo Massimo alle Terme

  • Largo di Villa Peretti 1

  • 06 3996 7700

  • Open 9am–7:45pm Tue–Sun

  • Adm €7.00

Palazzo Altemps

  • Piazza Sant’Apollinare 44

  • 06 3996 7700

  • Open 9am–7:45pm Tue–Sun

  • Adm €7.00

  • A €20 ticket (valid for 7 days) gives admission to all Museo Nazionale Romano sites and many archaeological areas, the €7.00 Museo Nazionale Romano card gives entry to all museums and is valid for 3 days

Gallery Guide

The Palazzo Massimo exhibits all its statuary relating to Republican and Early Imperial Rome (up to Emperor Augustus) on the ground floor, along with a few precious earlier, Greek pieces. The first floor exhibits detail art in the political, cultural and economic spheres of Imperial Rome up to the 4th century. The second floor, which must be visited on a timed-entry ticket, preserves ancient mosaics and frescoes. The numismatic collection is in the basement, alongside some gold jewellery and a mummified eight-year-old girl.

From Palazzo Altemps, pop into Piazza Navona for refreshments at Tre Scalini .

Call ahead for Palazzo Massimo tickets, as the frescoes and mosaics on the top floor are timed entry-only.

Top 10 Exhibits
  1. Statue of Augustus

    This statue of Rome’s first emperor once stood on Via Labicana. It shows Augustus wearing his toga draped over his head – a sign that, in AD 12, he added the title Pontifex Maximus (high priest) to the list of honours he assigned himself.

  2. Triclinium Frescoes

    These frescoes (20–10 BC) depicting a lush garden came from the villa of Augustus’s wife, Livia. They were in the triclinium, a dining pavilion half-buried to keep it cool in summer.

  3. Four Charioteers Mosaic

    The imperial Severi family must have been passionate about sports to have decorated a bedroom of their 3rd-century AD villa with these charioteers. They are dressed in the traditional colours of the Roman circus’s four factions.

  4. Wounded Niobid

    This hauntingly beautiful figure of Niobid (daughter of Queen Niobe), reaching for the fatal arrow that killed her siblings, was sculpted around 440 BC for a Greek temple, and was later acquired by Julius Caesar.

  5. Leucotea Nursing Dionysus

    A luxuriously frescoed villa, discovered in 1879, included this bedroom scene of the nymph nursing the wine god with additional scenes in the niches.

  6. Bronze Dionysus

    Few large Classical bronzes survive today, making this 2nd-century AD statue special beyond its obvious grace, skill and preserved decoration. You can still see the yellow eyes, red lips and a comb band in the grape-festooned hair.

  7. Discus Thrower

    This 2nd-century AD marble copy of the famous 450 BC Greek original by Myron is faithful to the point of imitating the original bronze’s imperfect dimensions.

  8. Ostia Altar

    This Trajan-era altar connects the foundation of Rome to the divine consorts Mars and Venus. Mars is shown as father to Rome’s legendary founder Romulus; Venus bears the hero Aeneas, who fled Troy for Rome and consequently founded the Iulia dynasty (Julius Caesar’s own, invented family tree).

  9. Scenes from the Basilica of Giunio Basso

    Colourful marble inlays represent paganism’s dying grasp among prominent Roman families. The empire had converted to Christianity by AD 331 when consul Giunio Basso (pictured as a charioteer in one panel) commissioned the scenes for his meeting hall.

  10. Numismatic Collection

    Italian coinage and currency is on display here, from the Roman Republic and Empire coins through to the medieval and Renaissance principalities, to the lira and the euro.

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