Martedi in Arte — that fantastic tradition where, on the last Tuesday of each month, major state museums in Italy are open and free from 7pm-11pm — is a hit. Such a hit, it's going on all year long.
Here in Rome, participating sites include the Palazzo Massimo (a savings of €10!), a treasure trove of ancient art and sculpture; the often-overlooked, but useful, Crypta Balbi; the Pantheon (always free, but only open so late for occasions like this one); the Palazzo Barberini, filled with gems by Raphael, Caravaggio and more; Castel Sant'Angelo, the papal castle; and the Galleria Borghese, that world-renowned collection of pieces by everyone from Bernini, Raphael, and others.
So mark your calendar: The next Martedi in Arte is May 31. But if you miss it, don't worry. You've got more shots… on June 28, July 26, August 30, September 27, October 25, November 29, and December 27. Phew!
If you haven’t been to Palazzo Massimo, then — even if you’ve seen the ancient statues in the Vatican and the ruins in the Forum — you haven’t seen the best of Rome’s archaeological finds.
(Note: This post was updated with current information in April 2017).
At this museum around the corner from the Termini train station, you’ll find some of Rome’s most famous bronze and marble sculptures — and then some. Treasures like ancient mosaics. Elaborately-carved sarcophagi. Incredibly-preserved frescoes taken from some of Rome’s most opulent ancient villas. Even the super-cool Fasti Praenestini, an enormous marble calendar set up in the forum of a nearby town.
First things first, though: Palazzo Massimo’s two most famous statues. I first encountered “The Boxer” in a college art history class. And lemme tell you, it’s even better in person. You can practically feel the exhaustion and melancholy emanating from the first-century B.C. bronze, slumping after his (unsuccessful?) match. Both this piece (above), and the magnificently-muscled “Prince,” were found at the Baths of Constantine in 1885.
But those aren’t the only (rightfully famous) ancient statues. The collection boasts not one, but two, ancient Roman copies of the 5th-century B.C. “Discobolus” (that super-classical athlete tossing a disc). Several beautiful Venuses. A statue of Augustus in the hooded guise of Pontifex Maximus.
And, from about 200 A.D., this fantastic sarcophagus:
The only sarcophagus I’ve ever seen approaching this one is the Alexander Sarcophagus. That one’s in Istanbul.
As much as I could go on and on about the Palazzo Massimo’s sculptures and sarcophagi, though, that’s not the real reason why you should go. The real reason is the ancient fresco collection. Not just because it’s fantastic, but because the museum has a whole section devoted to the Villa of Livia, Augustus’ wife. (Confused? Maybe it’s because I just wrote about the House of Livia and said that you can see it, and its frescoes, on Palatine Hill until March 30. But this is her other house, the one at Prima Porta).
Better yet, it’s set up more or less like the villa itself. So you can actually see how the rooms would have looked — complete not just with the frescoes on the walls, but delicate, detailed molding on the ceiling and mosaics on the floors.
One of my favorite rooms, though, is this one, taken from the ancient Villa Farnesina:
Pretty sweet. Not quite as incredible as the Naples Archaeological Museum… but almost. Since it’s right next to the Termini train station, you have no excuse not to go. I promise you won’t regret it.
Palazzo Massimo is located at Largo di Villa Peretti 1. It’s open every day but Mondays from 9am to 7:45pm; the ticket is €7 adults, €3.50 reduced, and also includes entrances into Palazzo Altemps, Crypta Balbi, and Diocletian’s Baths.
If you liked this post, you’ll love The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, available for purchase on Amazon or through my site here! I’m also free for one-on-one consulting sessions to help plan your Italy trip.
On Sunday, September 26, On Saturday and Sunday, September 25-26, every state-run museum and site in Rome, and across Italy, will be free — including such big-time sites as the Colosseum, Borghese gallery, and Capitoline museums (shown above).
But free entrance is far from the only perk. Many sites are offering (mostly free) events. And those events sure do range. They include:
"Twenty-Four Hours of Rome," a mountain-bike endurance contest in which masochists bikers pedal the same 7.5km course for 24 hours straight, starting at noon on Saturday
I beg you, as much as I'd love to see a Nordic-Walking mountain-biker who's spouting modern art knowledge and staggering from too much kosher wine, please don't do all four of these in one weekend.
The events and free entrances are all part of European Heritage Days, which the Council of Europe launched in 1991 to promote European art and culture. And while it's exciting, do keep in mind that at the highly-trafficked sites (like the Colosseum), lines are likely to be looong. Let me repeat that: looong.
So unless it's worth it to you to stand in a 3-hour line to save €12, I'd recommend hitting up the lesser-known galleries, instead. Think: the Palazzo Barberini (which just unveiled its refurbished archaeological wing and newly-restored Pietro da Cortona fresco), the Palazzo Massimo with its incredible archaeological collection, the MAXXI with its modern art and cutting-edge architecture…
The list goes on, so take advantage! It's not every day that you can do so much, while spending so little. At least in Rome.