Can’t Get to Rome Right Now? How About to L.A.?

Getty Villa, a bit of Rome in Malibu, California

Whether it’s the bad economy or the press of work, you might not be able to get to Rome or Pompeii right this second. But, if you’re lucky enough to be in California—or if you’re heading there anytime soon—then you can get the ancient Roman experience… in Malibu.

The Getty Villa, located on the border of Pacific Palisades and Malibu, is unlike any museum you’ve ever been to. First off, it’s not a museum. It’s an ancient Roman villa. Recreated.

Brainchild of oil tycoon (and art enthusiast) J. Paul Getty, the Getty Villa was designed to look like Herculaneum’s once-sumptuous, and world-famous, Villa of the Papyri. While Getty died before getting to see his dream completed, it’s hard to imagine that he wouldn’t be happy with how it all turned out. Re-opened in 2006 after a 10-year restoration, the Getty Villa boasts 64 acres of gardens, fountains, colonnades, buildings, even an ancient theater that sits up to 450 people. Every detail was done with the utmost attempt at historical accuracy, from the classical bronze statues in the gardens to the colored columns and frescoed walls.

Colonnade at the Getty Villa, a recreated ancient Roman villa in California

As for its collection? Well, it’s pretty fantastic. The museum boasts 44,000 Greek, Roman, and Etruscan artifacts, including everything from paintings (rare to find even in Italy) to mummies, pottery to perfectly-preserved jewelry. Some of the finds rival anything I’ve seen in Europe, including at the Naples Archaeological Museum and the Istanbul Archaeological Museum.

I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

Ancient Roman artifact at the Getty Villa in Malibu, California Bracelet of gold, glass, emeralds, and sapphires, ancient Roman, 300-400 A.D.

Ancient Roman portrait in the Getty Villa in California Mummy portrait of a woman, Romano-Egyptian, 100-110 A.D.

Painted coffin, ancient Roman-Egyptian, in the Villa Malibu Painted coffin, Romano-Egyptian, 300-400 A.D.

Ancient Roman statue in the Getty Villa, Malibu Statue of a youth as a lamp-bearer found in Pompeii, ancient Roman, 20-10 B.C.

Ancient Roman crown from the Villa Malibu in California Pure gold wreath, ancient Greek, 300-100 B.C.

Ancient vase from the Getty Villa, California Vessel of Medea killing her child, ancient Greek, 330 B.C.

And then there’s that pottery that, um, makes classical art look anything but boring. Here’s a fragment of a wine cup from about 500 B.C.:

Ancient Greek pottery in the Getty Villa of Malibu California

Yes, that’s a man vomiting because he’s too drunk. And no, that’s not the earthiest piece of pottery in the collection (…no pun intended). But the others were simply too, ah, X-rated to post.

Many of the objects, meanwhile, are in rooms designed as ancient Roman rooms would have been, setting the art off even more.

Let me put it this way: Sure, I’m an ancient Roman art-and-history geek, but for me, this villa was cooler than Disneyland. In fact, it’s kind of like a Disneyland for those of us who really like anything that still looks good when it’s a couple of millennia old.

And therein lies a potential criticism. In some ways, the whole concept of a recreated Roman villa is a bit Disneyfied. And if the actual art and objects inside were as fake as Epcot Center’s Doge’s Palace, then that would be one thing. But they hold up to the hype—and then some.

Which is why I felt just fine about feeling so excited to walk through the “ancient” Roman gardens.

Oh, and did I mention… that the Getty Villa is free? Even with the $15 that’s charged for parking, if you’re in the area, that’s, um, slightly cheaper than a flight to Rome. So, Californians: Promise me you’ll go. Soon. (Just don’t forget to book your entrance in advance, which is mandatory).

The Getty Villa is located at 17985 Pacific Coast Highway in Pacific Palisades. Here’s more information on the Getty Villa’s hours and directions.

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1 comment

  1. Dear Amanda,

    I am so glad for having stumbled on your blog. It’s simply great, very profound, insightful and informative! One of the best information sources about Rome, indeed.

    I am coming to Rome in a month and this would be my 2nd visit. I can’t say I enjoyed much of the 1st visit with all the historic sites as my experience probably was doomed by the tourist group which I was traveling with. It wasn’t necessarily bad, but certainly not the most pleasant experience. But now I feel it’s about the time I tested Rome again toghether with my spouse who will be visiting Rome for the first time. So we are about to enjoy many of the spots you have mentioned. If you happen to have any reviews or ideas regarding any budget eateries/restaurants around Quirinal and Borghese, I would be most grateful. I already checked your review about the ice-cream store on Via Collina which is literally around the corner from where we’ll be staying.

    Many thanks,

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