For 2,500 years, Rome has somehow managed to preserve its art history through centuries of war, earthquakes and neglect.
Like Paris, Rome holds some of the world’s greatest art collections. You will find the popular museums where you’ll find yourself drowning in tourists that have no idea what they’re looking at and then the more hidden museums that only the diehards know about. I will present to you a large selection of museums so you can choose for yourself.
The Borghese Gallery is one of the galleries that you will find tourists that have no idea what they are looking at. It is, however, one of the galleries I recommend most. A lot of the world’s greatest collections are housed here including my favourite sculpture in the history of all sculptures, Apollo and Daphne by Bernini, as well as some of Caravaggio’s works and Canova’s.
A trip to the Vatican Museum is also recommended but you will find yourself surrounded by a large number of tourists so arrive early or book ahead. You will find stunning classical statues from Lacoon to Pinturicchio’s Borgia Room Frescoes. The most famous, and most popular feature however is Michelangelo’s masterpiece, the Sistine Chapel. I could rave about this room for days.
If you prefer Modern Art I suggest taking a trip to the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna which boasts an impressive collection of Italian art from the nineteenth to the twentieth century plus a smaller collection of modern and contemporary art by international artists. It is located in the Palazzo delle Belle Arti, next to the Villa Borghese park. The collection includes works by Italian artists like Giuseppe Ferrari, Giacomo Balla, Giovanni Fattori, Antonio Canova, Felice Casorati and Lucio Fontana. However, the more recognisable artists are the international ones like Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas, Marcel Duchamp, Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg, Gustav Klimt, Wassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondriaan, Claude Monet, Jackson Pollock, Auguste Rodin, Vincent van Gogh and Yves Klein.
St Peter’s Basilica goes under both the art museum and architecture heading simply because it is Italy’s largest, richest and most spectacular church that contains centuries of artistic marvels. It contains three of Italy’s masterpieces: Michelangelo’s Pietá, his breathtaking dome, and Bernini’s baldachin over the papal alter.
In 500 B.C. Rome created the greatest standing work of Roman architecture and engineering, the Colosseum. Back in the day this is where gladiators fought for entertainment purposes. However you should be prepared for loads of tourists as this is one of Rome’s most famous attractions.
Similarly, the Pantheon is extremely popular but its worth at least seeing it from the outside. Its a 2,000 year old temple turned church and is the best-preserved ancient Roman building. Its dome was the largest in the world until the 1400s and is still the largest unreinforced concrete dome in existence.
A non profit curatorial project promoting contemporary urban art has recently been established to encourage these kinds of initiatives in Rome. Widely known French street artists like C215 and Seth worked together to create a piece in Metro A – Piazza di Spagna in an attempt to convert the high-trafficked area into something worth visiting. You can find it just before the iconic Spanish Steps.
Also, in San Lorenzo, private and public revitalisation projects have brought attention to street art to fix the area that was heavily bombed by the Allies during World War II. Here you will find works signed by Alicé Pasquini, C215 and Borondo.
In Ostiense, a historic Roman district edified around the 1910s for industrial purposes, they have recently hosted a redevelopment project named Ostiense District. Here you can find art signed by ROA, Sten&Lex, Lucamaleonte and many others. You can find them under the railway bridge on Via Ostiense, where poets and politicians are buried just a few metres away in the Protestant Cemetery which you will read more about below.
The young poet John Keats travelled to Rome from England in the hopes that the milder climate would alleviate his tuberculosis. Unfortunately, it did not and the illness eventually killed him in the Keats-Shelley House next to the Spanish Steps in 1821. It is now a museum and the room where Keats spent his last months has been preserved as well as fragments from Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron’s time in Rome. Many expatriate artists lived around Piazza di Spagna during the 1800s, so much so that it was designated the “English Quarter.”
If you want to hang out and have a cappuccino on the shadowed tables where writers once poured over their manuscripts head over to Antico Caffé Greco. Almost the oldest cafe in Italy, its doors have been opened since 1760. Some of the many writers that spent their time at the cafe are Keats, Stendhal, Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe, Mary Shelley, Charles Dickens, Hans Christian Anderson and Alberto Moravia.
Visit some of these writers at the Protestant Cemetery on the quiet side of the Pyramid of Cestius. Keats is buried there, as well as Shelley, Carlo Emilio Gadda, Goethe’s only son, and many other artists and expatriates who spent their last days in Rome.
THE NOT SO FAMOUS BUT FAMOUS
The public wasn’t granted access to the Capitoline Museums until 1734, after popes had been accumulating the collection for some 250 years. You can find colossal statues, ancient and modern works and the Centrale Montemartini. The Piazza is designed by Michelangelo and you can find works from Bernini, Caravaggio, Tintoretto, Titan and more.
More on the Centrale Montemartini, the venue was a decommissioned power station (hence the huge turbines, boilers and cogs). You can find a major centrepiece of Polymnia and Fortuna here and they sometimes host jazz concerts.
The art collection of the aristocratic Doria Pamphilj family can be found in the Doria Pamphilj Gallery. You can find a striking portrait by Velázquez which was inspired by one of Francis Bacon’s works. There are also masterpieces by Caravaggio, Titian, Raphael, Bernini and Breughel and the Elder.
If you have the time also visit:
- MAXXI — contemporary architecture designed by Zaha Hadid.
- Palazzo Altemps — sculptures collected by powerful Roman families in the 16th and 17th centuries, including a Bernini.
- Palazzo Massimo alle Terme — houses some of Rome’s superlative collections of classical art including Discus Thrower.
- Villa Farnesina — the wildest parties of the 16th century were housed here but when there wasn’t a party Agostino Chigi would fill up the rooms with art and frescoes of classical scenes.
- Nikolai Gogol’s House — where Russian writer, Nikolai Gogol lived, and also where he finished his great work Dead Souls.
- Tor Marancia — street art by Mr. Klevra, Jerico and Seth can be found on an apartment block just behind Via Cristoforo Colombo.
- Pigneto and Torpignattara — street art close to the Prenestino district.
- San Basilio — street art by internationally renowned street artists to spread powerful messages.
- MAAM Museo dell’Altro e dell’Altrove di Metropoliz — street art which expresses all its multicultural vitality through its walls and art.
- Metro B Stations — street art by Gomez, Ironmould, Solo, Diamond and Pepsi, each assigned to five different B line metro stations; Santa Maria del Soccorso, Rebibbia interiors/exteriors, Monti Tiburtini and Ponte Mammolo.
- Trullo — a suburb that has recently hosted a festival dedicated to street art and poetry and public lectures are held by local poets and many famous street artists such as Diamond, Sugar Kane and Mr. Klevra sign insanely colourful murals all over the area.
Prep yourself by reading the following books:
- The Woman of Rome, by Alberto Moravia.
- The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone, Tennessee Williams
Prep yourself by watching the following films:
- The Belly of an Architect (1987)
- La Dolce Vita (1960)
- Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
- The Great Beauty (2013)