Although most people flock to the Vatican Museums to see Michelangelo’s stunning work in the Sistine Chapel, it is hard not get waylaid by the sheer number and variety of artefacts, statues, paintings and miscellanea on display. Originally created in 1503 to house Pope Julius II’s private collection of classical sculpture, today the multiple Museums stretch through seemingly endless galleries and corridors. To see everything would take a lifetime but be sure not to miss the wonderful artworks in the Pinacoteca, the Egyptian mummies in the Museo Egiziano, the gorgeous painted maps in the Galleria delle Carte Geografiche and Raphael’s sublime frescoes in the Stanze di Raffaello.
Vatican Museums, Viale Vaticano, Rome
Situated alongside Rome’s city hall in Michelangelo’s geometric piazza on the Campidoglio, the Capitoline Museums are home to a huge range of ancient sculpture as well as later works by Bernini which adorn its elegant rooms. The collection is divided into two separate buildings, the Palazzo Nuovo and the Palazzo dei Conservatori, to get from one to another you pass through the ancient Roman archive building, the Tabularium which dates from 78 BC and offers a spectacular view through the Roman Forum to the Colosseum.
Capitoline Museums, Piazza del Campidoglio 1, Rome
This lovely villa stands within the verdant lushness of Villa Borghese and is one of the most beautiful museums in Rome. The frescoed rooms are filled with world-famous works by Caravaggio, Canova and Raphael, but the big draw here are the breathtaking sculptures by Gian Lorenzo Bernini which take centre stage. Although made from marble, masterpieces such as Apollo and Daphne and The Rape of Proserpine seem fluid and malleable. The museum works on a reservation only basis and limits the number of entries making the experience even more intimate and pleasurable.
Borghese Gallery, Piazzale Scipione Borghese 5, Rome
National Etruscan Museum at Villa Giulia
Villa Giulia was built in the 16th century as the summer residence of Pope Julius II and nowadays houses the National Etruscan Museum. Founded in 1889, the extraordinary collection of objects and sculpture unearthed around central Italy follows the development of this mysterious ancient civilisation. Highlights include the Sarcophagus of the Spouses, a large terracotta funerary monument depicting a couple reclining, as if at a banquet, and the Apollo of Veio, a splendid terracotta statue dating from the 6th century BC.
Villa Giulia, Piazzale di Villa Giulia 9, Rome
National Gallery of Ancient Art at Palazzo Barberini
This imposing Baroque palace which boasts architectural features by the likes of Borromini, Maderno and Bernini is home to the national art gallery along with Palazzo Corsini (the ticket includes entrance to both sites). Within the stately walls of Palazzo Barberini you will find three floors of paintings with famous works by Caravaggio, Raphael and Titian as well as an immense ceiling fresco by Pietro da Cortona in the first-floor salon.
Palazzo Barberini, Via delle Quattro Fontane 13, Rome
National Roman Museum at Palazzo Massimo
The main collection of the National Roman Museum, which is spread over several sites within the city, can be found at this historic palazzo near Termini train station. The collection covers everything from Roman coins in the basement to busts of the emperors and ancient statues dating from the peak of the Empire. However, the main highlight is the second floor where the decorations, frescoes and mosaics of prominent Roman villas have been reassembled.
Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, Largo di Villa Perretti 2, Rome
It may seem bizarre that a former 20th-century power station in the up-and-coming Ostiense district is one of the best places to view some of Rome’s most impressive ancient statuary. However, the success of the Centrale Montemartini lies in the unexpected juxtaposition of old and new: marble statues of Roman gods and intricate antique mosaics sit among industrial 20th century industrial machinery, creating a fascinating collection unlike any other.
Centrale Montemartini, Via Ostiense 106, Rome
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