Looking after a legacy
The National Museum of Rome comprises four distinct sites across the city. It was founded in 1889 in order to protect and display the treasures uncovered by excavations after the unification of Italy, as well as other artefacts reclaimed by the new Italian government from some Church collections.
The main collection of ancient art is at the Palazzo Massimo, Rome’s foremost archaeological museum. Here you will find the most stunning sculpture, fresco, and mosaic work from 11 BC up to the late Imperial period. It is now the main seat of the National Museum and also of the ministerial body in charge of the archaeological heritage of Rome. The Palazzo holds a number of iconic pieces such as the incredible Boxer from 330 BC, among many other treasures. Other highlights include the museum’s collection of early frescoes - particularly the remnants of the grandiose house of Augustus Caesar’s wife Livia - and the Fasti praenestini, a marble calendar from the forum of a nearby town.
Another location for classical sculpture is the elegant 17th-century Palazzo Altemps near Piazza Navona
, which has a beautiful collection of works from ancient Egypt to the 16th century. Many examples of ancient Roman sculpture are copied from even earlier Greek originals; some of the ancient sculptures show interesting alterations made during the Renaissance and Baroque eras. The displays are well lit and uncrowded, with a maximum of six statues in each of its 38 rooms.
Maps and epigraphs
The Crypta Balbi is perhaps the most overlooked of Rome’s museums. Visitors can descend into the remains of a number of medieval buildings and, deeper, the 13 BC Theatre of Balbus. Artefacts and tools offer an insight into the evolution of the area, particularly during the early medieval era, alongside maps - both modern ones and fragments of the Forma urbis Romae
, a vast 3rd-century marble map that Septimius Severus had mounted in the Roman Forum
to help visitors find their way.
The Baths of Diocletian, which date from 306 AD, are a vast thermal complex covering an area of about 15 hectares - the largest baths in the Western Hemisphere. Located to the south-east of Galleria Borghese
, you can also see here the charming garden of Michelangelo, the Chiostro Michelangiolesco, with its goldfish pond and funerary monuments. In addition to the grandeur of the baths are some illuminating epigraphic exhibitions in the vaulted spaces and renovated buildings associated with the 16th century convent of Madonna degli Angeli. These epigraphs reveal the importance of enduring sacred or political inscriptions found all over the city, and tell the story of Rome; the slaves who laboured under the nobility, the rise of the freemen and the growth of Christianity.